Hawks left with sickening feeling

Jonathan Toews had no doubt the Blackhawks would win Game 7. Rich Lam/Getty Images

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was at a near loss for words standing at his locker stall after an exhausting 2-1 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 on Tuesday.

Tired and saddened, Toews was asked to sum up the incredible 13 days. He paused.

“We’ve had some good series in the past, but I have to say that’s been the best one,” he said. “We never gave up. You have to feel like it’s meant to be when you get to that point. You have to think it’s going to go your way and when it doesn’t … I can’t believe what just happened. There was no doubt in my mind we were going to win this game coming into it.”

Toews did his part, albeit late in the game and series. He scored his first goal in the seven games with 1:56 remaining in regulation to tie Vancouver 1-1. It came while Duncan Keith was in the penalty box, reminding Joel Quenneville of a similar situation.

“It reminded me of last year against Nashville,” Quenneville said of a Game 5 shorty by Patrick Kane. “We were fortunate then but not tonight.”

Fortune played little part in the series or the season for the Blackhawks. They came up short throughout the first 82 games and it happened again in Game 89.

“It’s tough to take,” Keith said. “Knowing we could have been better in the regular season might have enhanced our chances here. Whether it’s home ice in the playoffs and things like that.”

Not everyone showed up for Game 7, and that will be dissected in the coming days. But there will be no argument about who came to play. A new star was born in this series and in this game.

“He was unbelievable,” Brian Campbell said of goalie Corey Crawford. “I feel bad for Corey. He had a lot of pressure coming into this season. We’re lucky to have him on this team.”

The Hawks were simply lucky to have him in Game 7 or it could have been a blowout.

“I don’t think anyone would have believed we would have come back and force a Game 7,” Crawford said. “We had a lot of momentum going into overtime and a couple chances there.”

Game 7 was a struggle just like the series and season. Fighting just to get into the playoffs, and then fighting to recover from a 3-0 series deficit, took its toll.

“It’s just tiring to think about it,” Toews said. “It was a battle the whole way. Your fans expect you to make it back, and there is nothing tougher than that.”

Quenneville said he felt “awful” after the game. He believed they were moving on.

“I had a good feeling going into that overtime,” he said. “The last couple of years we’ve been playing longer, and we’ve had some pretty amazing games and some great stretches, and we captured the emotion that was needed this year later in the series. That’s a lesson learning going forward.”

Emotion came late in the series and late in the season. There’s little doubt winning a Cup diluted their desperation but losing in the first round should return that feeling.

“It sucks. It’s not fun,” Campbell said. “We didn’t put ourselves in a good position at the beginning of the series or season.”

The kind of history the Hawks were trying to make Tuesday will have to wait, and so will a repeat champion. But they showed enough guts and learned enough lessons to believe that a return to dominance is possible.

Just not this year.