CHICAGO – A few fans remained at the United Center, too exhausted to get out of their seats.
The final notes of “We’ll Meet Again” trailed through the building from the stadium organ.
A big, blue Zamboni took a slow lap as work crews started to dismantle floor seats.
Everywhere I looked, one number appeared.
The scoreboard: “15.”
The electronic panel beneath the second deck: “15… 15… 15… 15… 15… 15.”
The electronic panel beneath the upper deck: “15… 15… 15… 15… 15… 15.”
It represented the number of wins remaining in order for the Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup.
Good for the Hawks for thinking big.
Good for all of us for surviving another crazy playoff game with our senses mostly in tact.
If the Hawks go on to clinch the Cup, let us remember Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime win against the Minnesota Wild as the moment when a playoff run turned into a sprint. Hawks forward Bryan Bickell raced down the left side of the ice, accepted a pass from Viktor Stalberg and punched in a backhand shot to win the game 16:35 into overtime.
In a flash, the Hawks had grabbed a 1-0 series lead in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Bickell celebrated with a flying belly-bump against the glass, and his teammates swarmed him in the corner of the rink as 21,428 law-abiding citizens momentarily lost their minds.
Those in the Hawks’ celebratory mosh pit included Andrew Shaw, who delivered a hit to jump-start the winning play, and Johnny Oduya, who had the awareness and precision to bank an incredible pass off of the side boards and down the ice to Stalberg.
Those in the stands included men and women of all ages, nearly all of them wearing red Hawks sweaters and whipping red towels above their heads. Couples turned and hugged. Strangers turned and high-fived. For all I knew, strangers hugged, too.
Hey, why not?
Welcome to the NHL playoffs.
The No. 1 seed Hawks might have dominated the regular season en route to a 36-7-5 record, but nothing comes easily at this time of year. A slew of low-scoring games awaits, many of which will be decided by one goal, some of which will go to sudden-death overtime.
That’s nothing new to these heart-stopping Hawks.
Including Tuesday’s 10-mile-long roller coaster of a game, the Hawks have gone to overtime in eight of their past nine postseason games. That includes one game this season, five out of six playoff games against Phoenix in 2012 and Games 6 and 7 against Vancouver in 2011.
Eight out of nine! That’s absurd.
It’s easy to become used to all sorts of things as time goes by.
I barely notice the neighbor dog that always barks. I don’t even blink at the constant sirens that come from the firehouse down the street. Birthdays no longer seem like a big deal.
But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to playoff hockey.
Will any of us?
The Hawks have far more talent than the Wild. They have world-class players such as Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, all of whom helped to jolt the Hawks from a sleepy first period in which Minnesota grabbed an early lead.
Yet Toews and his teammates know that beating the Wild will require everything they have.
“They’ve worked hard to get where they are right now,” Toews said. “Everyone knows – you look at how the playoffs have gone the last couple of years – if you’re the first or the eighth seed, it doesn’t really matter.”
Now, the Hawks will have a couple of days to regroup before Game 2 on Friday.
Go ahead, take a deep breath. Exhale.
One down, 15 to go.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.