Legs heavy, energy stores on empty, they raced up and down the ice, neither side wanting to give in to the other or to tiredness.
Three periods of playoff hockey had come and gone, with all the sweat and exertion and adrenaline that accompany it. Then one overtime, then a second, then into a third. Tuesday night became Wednesday morning at the United Center. Playoff beards filled in. Marian Hossa turned 45.
The Blackhawks and the Predators were carrying on as if everything was at stake, and maybe it was. Game 4 of their first-round series felt like a line in the sand. Whoever crossed it would win the series. Is that how it would be? Who knew? But with every frenetic rush into the other side’s zone, the desperation seemed to increase.
Neither wanted to cede anything to the other. Not any ground. Not any momentum. Certainly not a goal. Scott Darling was superb in the net for the Hawks. Pekka Rinne was crazy good for the Predators.
Something had to give. Theoretically. But doesn’t pi go on forever? So why couldn’t a hockey game?
Finally, at 1:16 a.m., with a heavy slap shot from inside the blue line and Bryan Bickell shielding Rinne, Brent Seabrook tucked this game in for a 3-2 Hawks victory. Good night to all.
“I don’t know if the guys were excited that I scored or excited that the game was over,’’ Seabrook said.
It’s hard to see the Blackhawks, with a 3-1 series lead, failing to put the Predators away now. But given the vagaries of this sport, the odd bounces of the puck and, who knows, rising barometric pressure, you’d be a hockey fool to pronounce anything over.
Still, let’s inch in that direction, shall we?
“To go up in the series 3-1 like we are, that’s huge,’’ said forward Brandon Saad, who scored the third-period goal that sent the game into overtime. “Whether it’s in regular time or a third overtime, it’s a big win regardless. But definitely mentally it’s draining, especially when you’re on the losing end.’’
There were so many players who were good to the last drop of sweat that it’s difficult to single any out. But Darling, making only his second playoff start, stopped 50 of 52 shots. He looked like a veteran, not a rookie. Defenseman Duncan Keith always plays a lot of minutes, but in Game 4, he was on the ice for 46 minutes, 19 seconds. No Hawk came within eight minutes of that. Ridiculous. And Antoine Vermette, who was a healthy scratch for Games 1 and 2, scored the Hawks’ first goal Tuesday night.
“Those moments are the ones you want to be in for sure,’’ he said. “This was something I saw myself being part of.’’
Well, maybe not exactly this. Not an ultramarathon.
The Hawks will still be talking about this one when they get old. But early Wednesday morning, they were talking about what parts of their bodies figured to be the sorest later in the day.
“Probably a lot of different parts,’’ Seabrook said.
“My feet,’’ Darling said. “Wearing skates for four or five hours doesn’t feel too good. Other than that, just got to get the fluids back in you and get ready to go.’’
What a wild night at the United Center. The Hawks, who won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013, know how to win games likes these. We’ve seen it over and over again. It doesn’t mean they are on the way to another Cup, but it sure looks like they’re on the way to the next round.
Predators coach Peter Laviolette insisted that the sun would come up Wednesday morning, but that was immaterial. There is no way anyone from either team would be awake to see it.