Blackhawks fall in season finale, draw Predators in first round

LOS ANGELES — Six months after the Blackhawks opened a season of uncertainty, with six rookies in the opening-night lineup, they wrapped up the second-winningest regular season in franchise history with a 3-2 overtime loss Saturday to the Los Angeles Kings.

The Hawks finished with 50 victories, just two shy of the team record set in 2009-10. They finished with 24 road wins, matching their most ever. They finished with six 20-goal scorers. With Richard Panik emerging as a top-line power forward with 22 goals. With Nick Schmaltz a confident star-in-the-making. With Ryan Hartman a versatile, surprisingly productive 19-goal scorer. With the top seed in the Western Conference.

And none of it means anything now.

The games count when the Hawks open the Stanley Cup playoffs (likely Thursday) at the United Center against the Nashville Predators, who suffered a stunning last-second loss to the Winnipeg Jets to lock in the second wild card. The last two times the Hawks played the Predators in the first round (2010 and 2015), they won the Cup.

]Jonathan Toews is congratulated by Trevor van Riemsdyk after scoring a first-period goal on Saturday. (Getty Images)

‘‘Absolutely,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said. ‘‘That energy, that ambition, that motivation is back. We have that feeling again that every single moment, every single game matters. It’s a lot of fun to play this time of year. It’s why we work all year — to get to this point. As we’ve said in the past, the real season begins.’’

The Hawks were less than a minute from breaking the franchise record for road victories, leading 2-1 on a third-period goal by Artemi Panarin. But Dustin Brown scored off a touch pass by Anze Kopitar on the rush with 55 seconds left to tie it, and Drew Doughty scored 27 seconds into overtime to end it.

Nobody wants to go into the playoffs with four losses in a row, but the Hawks liked most of what they did Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks and Saturday against the Kings.

‘‘Our last two games, we did some decent things,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘Would’ve been nice to win today, but we put ourselves in the position we wanted at the start of the season. That was our motivation. It’s good to be first in the division, and we got the conference.”

Toews staked the Hawks to a 1-0 lead at 6:25 of the first period with his 21st goal. After a sleepy second period, the Kings tied it on a power-play goal by Tyler Toffoli at 4:52 of the third. Panarin then converted a pass by Patrick Kane at 13:53 to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead — and likely secure a $1.725 million bonus for himself for finishing in the top 10 in points among NHL forwards. (He’s tied for ninth, with 10 games on the schedule Sunday.)

And you wouldn’t have known the game was meaningless by the way Panarin celebrated it. Quenneville kept Panarin and Kane in the lineup for the last three games — along with Panik, they’re the only Hawks to play in all 82 games — as Panarin pursued the bonus, which is well-earned but might wreak havoc on the salary cap next year.

‘‘I think it might turn out OK,’’ Quenneville said with a smirk, clearly happy for Panarin.

After weeks of essentially playing out the string and thinking about individual achievements, the Hawks are eager to turn the page surprisingly successful regular season.

‘‘Finished first in the West, we have home ice — can’t ask for much more than that,’’ goalie Corey Crawford said. ‘‘It was a great, great season by us. We’ve just got to build off that.’’

Said Toews: ‘‘We want to see what we’re made of. And I think we’re all pretty confident in what we’re able to do.’’

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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