The United Center looks like a massive ring of fire. Thousands and thousands of fans in red Blackhawks sweaters are screaming and hugging and otherwise not knowing what to do with themselves because how could they?
They have never been here before, celebrating a Stanley Cup victory that took place on home ice.
So how do you celebrate something you’ve never celebrated before in person? With heart, with abandon and, apparently, with no worries about profound hearing loss.
The final horn has just sounded, and a stadium threatens to slide all the way into Lake Michigan, structurally compromised as it is by too many decibels in too small a space. The Hawks have just defeated the ultra-talented Lightning 2-0 to win their third Stanley Cup in the past six seasons.
Bedlam is all the rage. It is the loudest I have ever heard a stadium. “Chelsea Dagger,’’ the Hawks’ unofficial song, is being piped into the stadium, but it is mere background music. The Hawks are in ball on one end of the rink, and the Lightning are hunched over or leaning on their sticks, exhausted, on the other. That’s sports right there. Winners and losers and no in-between. It’s why we watch. It’s why we wince sometimes at the cruel demarcation.
But not on this night. The Hawks were the better team, even if it took them six hard games to figure out the Lightning.
“That’s three Cups in six seasons,’’ NHL commissioner Garry Bettman tells the crowd. “I’d say you have a dynasty.’’
That’s a discussion for another day. There are more important matters at hand. It’s 10:09 p.m., and the Stanley Cup is being carried onto the ice like a silver idol. To many of these players and portions of the crowd, it is worship-worthy. The Hawks look like kids waiting for the OK to open their Christmas presents.
And finally here is the captain, Jonathan Toews, an old hand at this sort of thing, raising the Cup like a prizefighter holding up a championship belt. He hands it to Kimmo Timonen, a 40-year-old defenseman who had come here to do something he had never done before – win a Stanley Cup. Take it for a spin, son. And he does, holding it up for all to see.
Now it’s in Antoine Vermette’s hands and then on to Brad Richards. To Patrick Kane to Marian Hossa to Corey Crawford, a Murderer’s Row of Cup celebrators.
Nobody has done so much and put up with so much from the fan base than Crawford. He stopped all 25 shots he faced Monday night, including a pad save on a breakaway by Steven Stamkos early in the second period. This was his night of nights.
“Unbelievable feeling,’’ Crawford says. “It’s hard to describe. You could never describe it.’’
The best gift people can give Crawford is the gift of silence. But next season will start and people will clear their throats about a deficiency they have just discovered. Ah, but that’s for then. This is for now.
This is about the players, of course, but the glint of a silver trophy goes perfectly with a roiling background of red in the seats. It’s the first time Chicago has been able to celebrate a championship at home since the Bulls won an NBA title in 1997.
“To win it here in front of our fans, you can’t really describe it,’’ forward Marcus Kruger says on the ice. “It’s the best feeling you can have.’’
“This is incredible,’’ Toews says, looking up at a crowd that refuses to leave the premises. “Let’s stay here all night. There’s nowhere else we want to be.’’
It made perfect sense that defenseman Duncan Keith, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs, scored the first goal, putting in a rebound of his own shot in the second period. He was everywhere on the ice all series, but more importantly, he was always on the ice. The man has the lung capacity of a hot-air balloon. And it made perfect sense that Kane should make up for his Cup scoreless streak by putting in the kill shot in the third period. It cleared blocked breathing passages all over the United Center.
“We felt the most pressure coming into this game,’’ Toews says. “We had to fight the hardest for this game, for this series. (The Lightning) presented so many different challenges. That’s been one thing that’s been said about this team is we’re able to adapt, we’re able to find ways. We did it again. So it’s pretty incredible.’’
Next stop is a civic party, coming to a downtown parade route near you. You might as well go. You’ve earned it too.