CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks never pretended repeating as Stanley Cup champions would be easy.
They also never doubted they couldn't do it.
Even as their season took them on different turns and their play wasn't as consistent as it was on their way to last season's Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks never stopped believing they could be champions again this season.
On Sunday, the Blackhawks' season-long plan of becoming the first team to repeat in nearly 20 years was ceased when the Los Angeles Kings eliminated them from the playoffs with a 5-4 overtime win in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
The Blackhawks struggled to come to terms with that just afterward.
"It's tough," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp. "It stings right now, that's for sure. Don't really know what else to say other than that. I thought we had a heck of a game tonight. Just one goal short."
Losing as the Blackhawks did in overtime only worsened the feeling.
"Really disappointing," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "You don't get this far, to Game 7, one shot, one goal away from going to play for the Cup. It's just really disappointing, I don't know what else to say."
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews felt that same way for himself, his teammates and the Blackhawks' fans.
"When you get the chance to win a Stanley Cup and you win another one, you see how great it feels and how amazing it feels to be part of a group like that, that gives everything and you get the result that you want, especially when a city like Chicago rallies around you," Toews said. "So to come up short, it's not fun, especially when we know what we're missing out on."
Keith and Sharp recently said their season wouldn't be a success unless they repeated as champions. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wasn't as hard on his team. He saw positives in what the Blackhawks did this season.
"Well, we were pretty close to getting to the big dance," Quenneville said. "You look at how close we were, how competitive it was. It's a tough league. It's a tough thing to do, to win the Cup. I couldn't be prouder of our guys the way we competed in some tough situations, down 3-1. One shot away from going to try to do it again.
"We're in a tough division, some tough teams, some tough games. Overcoming all those obstacles after what happened last year and this year, you know, I've lost some tough games, but nothing like tonight."