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Blackhawks disappointed title defense ends early

Roster turnover, lack of production from top players were key factors in series loss to Blues

by Brian Hedger / NHL.com Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- Duncan Keith stuffed his shin pads into his hockey bag, pulled on a shirt and found his Chicago Blackhawks' cap.

Standing in front of his stall in the visiting locker room at Scottrade Center on Monday, the two-time Norris Trophy winner did his best to sum up a feeling the Blackhawks haven't had since 2012, when they exited the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

Four years and two championships later, the Blackhawks again felt the sting of losing in the first round. After fighting back from a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-7 series against the St. Louis Blues, their championship defense ended with a 3-2 defeat in Game 7.

"Obviously, it was close the whole way," said Keith, whose voice was hoarse and crackled as he spoke. "Give them credit. They did what they had to do and they came through."

The Blackhawks felt they'd done enough to win, too, but the finish wasn't there. They outshot the Blues 33-26. They came out strong in the second period again. They got another great night from goalie Corey Crawford (23 saves), who made several dazzling stops among his 12 in the second.

They just didn't get the game's final goal, which was scored by former Blackhawks forward Troy Brouwer at 8:31 of the third period.

Video: CHI@STL, Gm7: Brouwer beats Crawford in the crease

For Chicago's core group of veterans, this was their fifth Game 7 since coach Joel Quenneville took over in 2008-09. They're 2-3 in those games, with two of the losses in overtime and this one seemingly headed that way until Brouwer scored off the rebound of his own shot.

It was a play that summed up the Blackhawks' biggest shortcoming this season, after they went through a large roster turnover last offseason.

Among the key players Chicago lost was veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya, who signed with the Dallas Stars. The Blackhawks never truly filled the void and it wound up costing them on Brouwer's goal.

Rookie defenseman Erik Gustafsson, one of three young defenders Quenneville used in Oduya's spot this season, turned the puck over in the neutral zone. He also didn't get back in time to cover Brouwer on the rebound, a painful lesson learned in his developmental curve.

"Tough way to go out," Quenneville said. "We had the perfect setup there and we did exactly what we're not supposed to do or what we're unaccustomed to doing, and it's in our net. And it's game, set, match."

It was just one of multiple Blackhawks' mistakes they'll chew on the rest of the summer. Andrew Shaw's ill-timed penalty late in Game 4 is another one, along with Keith's high-sticking infraction from the regular season. He was suspended six games for it and missed Game 1, when the Blues won 1-0 in overtime.

Video: CHI@STL, Gm7: Shaw beats Elliott with deflection

"It's hard to win for so long," Keith said. "It takes a lot. It takes everybody. It's just, at the end of the day we didn't get it done and hats off to them. It's tough. You take it to seven games, you crawl back in the series and you put it to the last period, and it comes down to one goal. It's a fine line between winning and losing, and you know, I always say it's a fine line, but at the same time it can be a big difference too."

Scoring from top players was also a big difference. The Blackhawks got only one goal between Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, their two highest-paid players.

"It just doesn't really feel right," said Kane, who became the first American player to win the Art Ross Trophy by leading the NHL in scoring (106 points). "Pretty quick, right after, to put everything right after into words. Obviously not the outcome we were looking for."

This was the first series the Blackhawks lost without getting a goal from Toews, who finished with six assists. His sixth assist was on a power-play goal by Shaw that tied it 2-2 at 3:20 of the second period.

"Clearly disappointment," Toews said. "For a while people were saying this series looked like it was probably going to come down to one goal at the end, and it did. Just wasn't in our favor. So, not much you can say right now. It was close the whole way."

Chicago also had some bounces go the Blues' way. Like what happened to Andrew Ladd in Game 3, Brent Seabrook had a shot late in the third period of Game 7 that hit both posts and bounced out of the crease. It would've tied the game 3-3.

Keith initially thought the puck had hit the back of the net and rimmed out, but soon realized it wasn't a good goal.

"That's nothing," Keith said, his voice trailing off. "That's not the series. Those are just bounces. It's not the game."

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