At 10:10 p.m. CDT Sunday night, Chicago shook its fist at fate, cursed the Kings and slowly started to face reality that will take all summer to sink in.
BREAKING NEWS: Hearts all over town broke watching the Blackhawks lose, 5-4, in overtime in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. There will be no Stanley Cup repeat or Grant Park parade. Stunningly, the Blackhawks' season is over. It even seems odd to type that.
It ended when Kings defenseman Alec Martinez fulfilled the dream every hockey player has when he starts skating by scoring the goal that sent his team into the Cup Final. The only dream better would be a goal to win the Cup — which, in all likelihood, this one did for the Kings.
At the 5-minute 47-second mark of overtime, Martinez fired a shot that deflected off teammate Tyler Toffoli's stick and Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy's shoulder past Corey Crawford. Call it cheap or fluky but, in the words of Patrick Kane, that's hockey, baby. Live by the quirky bounce — Patrick Sharp's first goal — and die by it too.
"I didn't really know until [Jarret Stoll] started going nuts," Martinez said.
The moment will be etched into the memory of so many Chicago sports fans to whom the pain feels familiar. For some, the temptation now will be to label the Blackhawks' entire season a failure but resist it. Disappointment is more apt. This wasn't a first- or second-round ouster but a loss in the conference finals to the first NHL team to ever win three Game 7s on the road. There is despair but no shame in that. There were no goats, only regrets.
"To work as hard as we have to put ourselves in position two years in a row, it's tough to think about," Jonathan Toews said.
With the season on the line for the third straight game, the Blackhawks again responded as if every shift mattered. Every Blackhawks star played like a star, finally with Sharp getting into the act.
The man known for his movie-star looks nearly prevented the team from Hollywood from getting its happy ending with two goals. Sharp's go-ahead score with 1:35 left in the second period looked like the game-winner until Marian Gaborik did to the Blackhawks what Kane did the Kings in Game 6. Gaborik, on track for the Conn Smythe Trophy, knocked in his own rebound with 7:17 left in regulation. The goal reminded everybody these Kings never say die. They only say we're not going away.
Neither did the Blackhawks on a night many will try to forget but can't.
"Tonight was two great teams with a lot of guys who have won Stanley Cups before," Sharp said.
The Blackhawks came out with intensity that matched the crowd of 22,315, which included Brandon Marshall, Anthony Rizzo and Charles Barkley in a red No. 88 sweater. Anthem singer Jim Cornelison rose to the occasion, making it hard to imagine a more electric pregame atmosphere in all of sports.
Just 5:06 into the game, Kane raised the decibel level even more. Behind the net, Kane made one of those passes only he would attempt to Brandon Saad. From an unusual angle, Saad caught Kings goalie Jonathan Quick leaning and scored the first goal. The Four-Letter Word line of Kane, Saad and Andrew Shaw again made Kings fans want to cuss.
Kane applied more pressure three minutes later by advancing the puck until it popped loose in front of Quick where Toews tapped in his easiest goal of the playoffs. At the 8-minute 36-second mark, the Blackhawks led, 2-0. Bedlam erupted.
Game 2 taught the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead was anything but safe at home. On cue, Jeff Carter knocked in a puck out of midair for the Kings' first goal. Justin Williams, Mr. Game 7, tied it 51 seconds later on a rebound. Before total deflation set in, Sharp reclaimed a 3-2 lead 12 seconds later with a please-remember-me wrist shot that took a fortunate bounce by Quick.
Doubt returned with 9:29 left in the second when the puck deflected off Michal Handzus and Toffoli knocked it in as Brent Seabrook — in an all-too-familiar scene — arrived a half-second late. Of course, it wasn't the last tie of the last game of an epic series.
You didn't have to be an NBC executive to appreciate what America witnessed. A wonderful series that deserved a Game 7 required overtime too — as fitting as it was frustrating. With due respect to the Rangers, the NHL will stage a Stanley Cup Final, but this series decided the league's best team.
"It's hard to admit to ourselves this season is over," Toews said.
Rest assured, it will be even harder for a hockey city to accept.