The final images usually come in a crushing Game 7, like 2014 against the Kings or last season against the Blues.
When the Hawks bow out, the conclusion comes after a bit of puck luck doesn't go their way, or they fall to a team on their level that just happened to get the fourth victory before they did.
It doesn't come like it did in a 4-1 loss to the Predators on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena. It doesn't come when one team skates circles around them, chases them off pucks and out of the playoffs with a sweep. It doesn't end with them helpless to explain how it happened.
"You lose a series, you tend to think of a million different things that went wrong," said captain Jonathan Toews, who scored the Hawks' lone goal in Game 4. "I feel like it's a whole different story when you can't win a game in a seven-game series and you go four straight, scoring three goals with not really having much to show for at all."
The Western Conference's top seeds were supposed to have enough pride and fight at least to get deep in a series, to ramp up the drama that would increase the hurt of the fall, not soften it by making it seem inevitable.
But instead the Predators handed the Hawks their first four-game playoff sweep since 1993.
Roman Josi scored twice and Colton Sissons and Viktor Arvidsson once each to provide the final blows that knocked the Hawks into an offseason that will feel different from most of recent vintage. The Hawks won't live with the fact they were close or were unlucky. They have to live with the fact they just weren't good enough.
"We probably all thought it was going to go a different way," winger Patrick Kane said. "Especially with the regular season you have. Coming into the playoffs, I think we felt pretty confident. So it's disappointing. Shocked. I don't know. It's going to be a long summer, for sure."
It will be long summer of self-evaluation for some of the veterans, who looked a step slow trying to combat the Predators' speed, for the front office and for coach Joel Quenneville.
Quenneville said he was unsure if the team needed to make major changes, but he said the sting of this loss nullifies the success the 50 victories the Hawks had in the regular season.
"They raised their level of play in the playoffs, and I don't think we got to where we had to be," Quenneville said.
Toews, who sported a scratch across his right cheek, seemed flummoxed trying to explain the disaster that unfolded, a calamity ripe for a Nashville country song.
"It seems like the harder we try, things just weren't flowing," Toews said. "We couldn't find that next gear we were looking for. You do everything you can as the season goes along to play your best hockey and get to the right level come playoff time … and it sucks in that regard. We just couldn't find the way to get to the highest level of what we know is our potential. We didn't get close to it."
Because of that the Hawks are headed home, and not in their usual fashion.
"Aside from what it would feel like to miss the playoffs, especially with the potential in this room, this has to be the next-worst feeling for sure," Toews said.
CHRIS HINE'S THREE STARS
1. Roman Josi, Predators: Defenseman broke scoreless tie in second period, added goal in third.
2. Pekka Rinne, Predators: After 30 more saves, goalie allowed only three goals on 126 shots in series.
3. Colton Sisson, Predators: Scored important second goal in third period.