Determining what would be the difference between the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks seemed like a futile exercise early in the Western Conference Final.
The teams were so close. Three of the games went to overtime. The aggregate score was 19-19 through the first six games.
But Anaheim ceded control after a Game 5 win and was not up to the task of eliminating the more experienced Blackhawks, who powered through shorthanded on defense to advance to their third Stanley Cup Final in six years.
Anaheim sustained its third straight Game 7 loss at home.
Here are five reasons the Ducks failed to advance:
1. Chicago's captain was better. Jonathan Toews owned the back-end of the series, scoring two goals in the first 12 minutes of Game 7 and two in the final 1:50 of Game 5 to force overtime, which might have turned the series even though Anaheim won the game.
Toews became the first player in NHL history to score multiple goals on the road in Games 5 and 7 of a Stanley Cup Playoff series, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
In Game 7 he was matched up against Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf, whose worst game of the series was Game 6 and his poor start to Game 7 facilitated the loss. Getzlaf was on the ice for six of Chicago's nine goals in a span from Game 6 to Game 7.
2. Corey Crawford outplayed Frederik Andersen in Game 7. Crawford arguably turned in his best game of the series with 35 saves. The puck seemed to stick to him like Velcro and it helped that much of Anaheim's offense was of the one-shot-and-out variety.
Andersen was a rock for the Ducks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but he looked shaky at the start of Game 7 and it put Anaheim in a 3-0 hole. He stopped Patrick Kane on a breakaway and made another great save on him in Game 7 but Chicago already had leads of 3-0 and 4-1 at those points.
3. Anaheim couldn't break down Chicago's defense. Taking advantage of essentially a four-man Blackhawks defense was a big part of the Ducks' strategy but it never really materialized over the course of the series.
Chicago won with defensemen Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya handling most of the minutes. Keith strengthened his case for the Conn Smythe Trophy through his remarkable durability. He leads all defensemen in assists (16) and points (18), and leads all skaters in total time on ice (537:04).
Anaheim outhit Chicago 341-224 in the series but ultimately had nothing to show for it.
4. The Ducks dropped the ball in Game 6. Anaheim was playing a solid road game but was done in when Chicago scored three goals in a four-minute span of the second period. The Ducks spent the rest of the series trailing.
Though much focus is on their Game 7 failures, the Ducks squandered an opportunity to close out the series and avoid a Game 7 altogether; they sustained their first regulation loss of the postseason.
5. Anaheim didn't learn from its past. The script played out much like their previous Game 7s: the Ducks got outscored at the start, didn't show poise and Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau resorted to line shuffling in a flustered attempt to spark something.
It's become a tired story for Anaheim, which looked more and more like a Cup-caliber team as the playoffs unfolded but lost to a more experienced team.
"It's miserable," defenseman Cam Fowler said. "It's an awful feeling. I feel like me personally, I let a lot of people down. I think as a team, we let a lot of people down. We felt like we had a special thing going and for it to be over is a pretty surreal feeling, to be honest."