The Chicago Blackhawks saw their hopes of a second consecutive Stanley Cup triumph dashed in heartbreaking fashion with a 5-4 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings in a deciding Game Seven of their Western Conference Finals on Sunday.
Chicago won the opener of a thrilling series between the last two Stanley Cup champions but lost the next three, leaving no room for error against a Kings team armed with an opportunistic offense and bruising defense.
In the series decider, the Blackhawks surrendered the lead on three occasions to a gritty opponent who only led once - when it mattered the most.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville dismissed a suggestion that the team fell victim to fatigue in a season that saw a raft of his players participating at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
"We were pretty close to getting to the big dance, when you look at how close we were, how competitive it was. It's a tough thing to do to win the cup," Quenneville told reporters.
"I know one thing, they find a way, L.A., they're never out of a hockey game, they're never out of a series. They're dangerous."
The Blackhawks, feared around the league for their speed and skill, were matched stride-for-stride by the Kings, who struggled to score goals at times during the regular season.
Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford saw his NHL playoffs-best save percentage of 0.931 after the first two rounds against St. Louis and Minnesota plummet to 0.884 against the Kings.
Los Angeles scored in bunches, including six unanswered goals in a Game Two blowout victory that swung the series in their favor.
After a quiet start to the series, Chicago star Patrick Kane exploded for seven points in Games Five and Six, including a winner, but neither he nor his team mates could muster the heroics to take down the Kings for a third straight game.
"We were looking for that one extra lucky bounce and we just ran out of time and we didn't get it," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said.
(Additional reporting by Nick; Carey and Michael Hirtzer; Editing by John O'Brien)