It's fitting that the Blackhawks wrapped up their 2006-07 season in the same place where it all began to go horribly wrong.
Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Stars put the final touch on a 31-42-9 campaign and was their 10th straight game here without a victory. The Hawks' last victory in Dallas came March 7, 2001.
Mike Modano's 507th goal in his soon-to-be Hall of Fame career on a power play at 16 minutes 11 seconds of the third period was the winner. The Stars scored twice in 2:35 to overcome a 2-1 Hawks lead.
The Dallas power play came after defenseman Duncan Keith took a penalty while the Hawks had a man advantage. Keith made an ill-advised drop pass at the Dallas blue line that was picked off, and he was forced to take a hooking penalty on the Stars' ensuing short-handed rush.
"That sums up our year," Hawks coach Denis Savard said. "The power play did not get the job done."
It was a tough third period for Keith, who took a shot off his left cheekbone that narrowly missed his eye, and defenseman Cam Barker, who left the game midway through the period after injuring his right shoulder when he was taken into the boards by former Hawk Stephane Robidas.
Barker said he didn't think the injury was serious, but he'll likely be examined this week in Chicago.
The Hawks are familiar with third-period injuries and blown leads in Dallas this season.
It was here Oct. 20 that the Hawks began their descent from giddy optimism to their usual place near the bottom of the NHL standings.
Six minutes from winning five of their first seven games and beating a longtime nemesis on its home ice, the Hawks not only surrendered four goals to lose that game but also had their best player, Martin Havlat, crash into the end boards and sprain an ankle.
The next night, against the St. Louis Blues at the United Center, goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin broke a finger in warmups and center Michal Handzus hurt a knee and was lost for the season.
In a span of 24 hours, the Hawks had lost three of their top players. A fourth, Tuomo Ruutu, already was sidelined with a sprained knee.
So instead of being 5-2 and building momentum behind the breathtaking play of Havlat, the Hawks lost 12 of their next 15 games, culminating with the firing of coach Trent Yawney.
How different would Sunday have been had the events of those 24 hours in October not taken place?
Would the Hawks be preparing for the playoffs this week instead of finishing nearly three months of playing out the string?
That's impossible to say. Luck plays a big role in any team's success. But the beauty of an 82-game schedule is how it reveals depth in an organization and mental toughness in its players, two factors the Hawks have sorely lacked the last two seasons.
So they instead go into this off-season seeking solutions for the same problems they had at this point last season.
Savard, who finished the season 24-30-7, has said repeatedly the Hawks are "close." But his view is more forgiving than the one of fans who have seen one playoff series since 1997.
That's a long time by anyone's calculations.
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