LOS ANGELES — Six months and 246 periods 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 to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday afternoon.
They finished with 50 victories, just one 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, playmaking 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 starting next week, likely Thursday, when the Hawks open up the Stanley Cup playoffs at the United Center against either the Nashville Predators, the Calgary Flames, or the St. Louis Blues.
Jonathan Toews scored his 21st goal at 6:25 of the first to stake the Hawks to a 1-0 lead. After a sleepy second period, the Kings tied it on a Tyler Toffoli power-play goal at 4:52 of the third.
Artemi Panarin then cashed in on a Patrick Kane feed 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 74 points, with five games on the schedule Sunday). And you wouldn’t have known the game was meaningless by the way Panarin celebrated it. Joel Quenneville kept Panarin and Kane in the lineup for these last three games — along with Richard Panik, they’re the only Hawks to play all 82 games — as he pursued the bonus, which is well-earned, but could wreak havoc on next year’s salary cap.
But the Kings tied it in the final minute on a Dustin Brown goal, extending the Hawks’ regular season just a little bit longer — 27 seconds, to be exact, as Drew Doughty scored in overtime to stymie the Hawks’ chances to break the franchise road-record mark.