After the Blackhawks’ 4-3 season-ending loss late Tuesday night, after the handshake line with the Golden Knights, after the rest of the Hawks left the ice for good, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane exchanged a quick fist bump.
Toews put his arm around Kane for a brief moment. Then the Hawks’ two leaders went down the tunnel for the final time in the 2019-20 season.
The Hawks were thoroughly outplayed over the past week by the top-seeded Golden Knights, who won the series 4-1 and eliminated the Hawks with Tuesday’s Game 5 victory.
It wasn’t a result any of the Hawks enjoyed. It also wasn’t a result any of them could argue was undeserved.
But a sense of positivity and growth nonetheless permeated through Toews, Kane, Duncan Keith and coach Jeremy Colliton’s postgame press conference, the team’s last in this strange yet strangely effective Edmonton, Alberta, bubble setting.
“If things had gone the way they were supposed to, before this entire situation, we wouldn’t have had a chance to play in the playoffs,” Toews said. “So it was a great opportunity for us to come in and play some meaningful hockey, and a lot of guys stepped up the plate and showed what they can do.”
“I just like that we never gave up. That’s been kind of our motto all year,” Kane added. “Just feels weird to be done, you know? Tough to be done with the season.”
Game 5 started on a great note for the underdog Hawks, with Toews and Alex DeBrincat — set up by fantastic plays by Brandon Saad and Connor Murphy, respectively — scoring the first period to open a short-lived 2-0 lead.
Kane, too, finally broke his snakebitten postseason streak with a ruthless 1-on-1 goal against Robin Lehner, which temporarily gave the Hawks a 3-2 edge in the second period. Kane admitted after the game he still felt disappointed by his overall production.
“[It] definitely would’ve been nice to produce a little bit more, especially when our depth guys played so well,” Kane said. “[I had a] couple bad breaks. I hit four or five posts throughout the postseason. Would’ve been nice to get a bounce, maybe get some momentum going that way.”
The Knights fought back after each Hawks strike, and went ahead for good on Alex Tuch’s powerful net drive with 18:26 left in the third period.
While the Hawks played the Knights more evenly Tuesday than in Sunday’s miraculous Game 4 win, Vegas still finished with 68-52 shot attempt and 34-25 scoring chance advantages. Vegas generated more scoring chances in all five games.
“We just couldn’t quite find the consistency throughout games to get a couple more wins on the board,” Colliton said. “[I] can’t fault the work ethic and the commitment our team had throughout the playoffs.”
Colliton’s decision to scratch Alex Nylander and play depth forward John Quenneville in his place was curious from the start, and looked even more indefensible when Quenneville was out-shot 10-3 during his nearly 14 minutes of ice time. But Colliton said he turned to Quenneville for his physicality and thought he “did well.”
With goalie Corey Crawford pulled for an extra attacker, the Hawks finally generated some looks in the final 20 seconds, but their best chance — a Keith blast — was blocked before reaching Lehner.
The Hawks finished the playoffs with a 4-5 record. Their stirring qualifying-round series win over the Oilers was, on paper, cancelled out by this dominant Knights team, which will now enjoy some rest before their second-round opponent is determined.
The beneficial experience of the Hawks’ playoff run — for the team’s rookies and veterans alike — was anything but cancelled out, though.
“It was definitely good for us to get back to the playoffs and play some meaningful games,” Toews said. “For guys that haven’t been here before, and even for the guys who have.”
“It was just good to see us take that next step in that team game, to play the way we needed to play to win a playoff series and compete against an elite team in Vegas, the top seed,” Colliton said. “We were right with them in most of the games here. It was just nice to see us improve and take that step.”