If they look older, paler and more portly than ever, it's probably because they are actually middle-aged suburban woman. They wear their jerseys proudly and perform their monotonous day job with more zeal than one might expect, all while a Blackhawks flag hangs over them in the office. On the way back to the city a few hours later, Marian Hossa is driving a large moving truck, hedging his way into traffic and slowing down the commute. Hossa is greeted with a few horns, but there's no red light that goes off and, shockingly, "Chelsea Dagger" cannot be heard in the distance.
Did you know hockey fans enjoy wearing their favorite team's sweater? It's true, especially when that team hardly ever loses thanks to an unseemly habit of blitzing their opponent with a combination of speed, depth and fury all season long. Chicago has loved its Blackhawks with Bears-like solidarity over the last half-decade or so, and it really loves this team in particular. On Wednesday morning, you can't leave home without seeing the Indian head. Chicago knows what's on the line later in the day. Game 7s have unifying properties.
2. I'm working my editorial shift at SB Nation on Wednesday night, but I'm working it at friend's house. You can't watch Game 7s in an empty apartment, even if you're mostly a basketball fan who just recognizes a bandwagon worth hopping on when you see one. There are about 10 people in the living room for the game, and they do not look good. I ask my buddy Matt how he's feeling.
"I do not feel good."
OK, then. We're a step away clutching pillows and saying a few Hail Marys over here. That's the other thing about Game 7s: if you're really, truly invested in the team that's playing in one, it's almost impossible not to feel an overwhelming sense of nervous dread, particularly when your team entered the series as the heavy favorite. My Twitter feed repeats the sentiment.
Drinking an old beer I found in my fridge. Tastes like rubbing alcohol. I might die. Not sure if I care.— Andrew Cieslak (@AndrewCieslak) May 29, 2013
So on and so forth. Game 7s are a powerful beast.
3. After a scoreless first period, someone decides to pour a tray of shots during the intermission. I'm not drinking, but it would appear to be vodka mixed with what I'm told is "bear juice." Sure. Why not. The shots are consumed right as the second period starts, and I trust whatever "bear juice" is to bring the Blackhawks good fortune. A minute later, two Red Wings defensemen are trying to get off the ice on a line change when the 'Hawks start a counter attack. They run the old three-man weave drill everyone practiced on the junior high basketball team.
Sharp to Handzus to Hossa to Sharp. Goal, Blackhawks. There are two shots left on the table, and two people immediately run to throw them back before exchanging vigorous high-fives with the rest of the room. "Chelsea Dagger" is playing and it doesn't suck. The only time you want to hear that song is after the Blackhawks score a goal, but goddamn, does it feel right in the moment.
Even for a meek basketball fan, it's hard not to love playoff hockey. The seemingly universal dedication to slamming drinks and yelling things at the TV is downright commendable.
4. The 'Hawks had some more chances throughout the second but couldn't find a way to get the puck in the net. It's 1-0 Blackhawks heading into the third period, a lead so slim no one can feel comfortable. Again, someone goes to make the bear juice shots, but he doesn't come back soon enough. As he's making the drinks in the living room, Henrik Zetterberg ties the game with a goal that comes just 26 seconds into the period. Words are said that are not fit for a family operation like SB Nation. There are moans and also groans in this living room, and no one looks happy.
5. What happens next is a phenomenon that isn't entirely unique to watching sports, but it sometimes feels like it. It's a moment that, as soon as it happens, you know you're going to remember it for the rest of your life. Where you were, who you were with, etc.
There's under two minutes left in the third period when Niklas Hjalmarsson receives the puck and rifles a slapshot past Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard to put the 'Hawks up 2-1. In a sport where so many goals come off tips and deflections at the net, this one is as pretty as you'll ever see. It's the perfect game-winner and the best way to send the hated Red Wings out of the playoffs and to the Eastern Conference next season.
It's basically an exorcism of one thousand demons, until it isn't. The goal is waved off thanks a penalty that happened well behind the play. The studio show later says that it's a horrible call, and the living room and my Twitter feed agree.
The Blackhawks had this one. They were robbed. That overwhelming sense of nervous dread? Oh, it's back for overtime in full force. So are more shots.
6. I will say, at this point in the game, I did not expect the Blackhawks to win. I was already feeling bad for my friends, the real life ones on the verge of tears and Internet ones also on the verge of tears. You want to console them but it feels best not to say anything. Who knows.
Early in overtime, the Red Wings are sort of kicking ass. There's a flurry of activity at the Chicago net, and I'm sure this is it. Johan Franzen has the puck and Corey Crawford is at the other side of the net. The goal is wide open, but somehow Franzen's shot hits off Duncan Keith's leg and the 'Hawks are able to clear the puck. Goodness, was that close.
And now you know how it ends. Dave Bolland delivers a vicious check to jar the puck free, where Brent Seabrook picks it up. Seabrook has not had a strong game, but the series is on his stick as he approaches Howard and one Detroit defender. He fires a wrist shot that might have been aided by a deflection off the Red Wings' defender. It goes in. Red lamp, "Chelsea Dagger" and the sweet, sweet sound of catharsis inside the United Center.
Five minutes after the game ended, one stray firework was heard exploding in the neighborhood. It was worth it.
The Blackhawks entered this series as the heavy favorites until they found themselves down 3-1. They had now successfully completed the comeback and are off to the Western Conference Finals. If Chicago seems tired, maybe even a tad hungover on Thursday morning, you know why.
7. The Blackhawks started this season with 24 straight games without a regulation loss. You might have heard about it. Ever since, this was a championship-or-bust season. Chicago got its long overdue Stanley Cup three seasons ago, but talk of a dynasty populated the air from the moment it ended. Chicago always felt like it got screwed out of a dynasty with the mid-80s Bears, and they don't want to let another opportunity for prolonged dominance slip through the cracks. This city was fortunate enough to be graced with Michael Jordan, and let me tell you, it was pretty great.
Lots of things have happened since that hot start. LeBron tweeted about the team, they won the President's Trophy, they knocked out the Minnesota Wild with relative ease. The fans wanted the Red Wings in the second round, and they got all they could handle.
Two joggers ran by my front door today in Blackhawks shirts. The man behind the counter at 7-Eleven has an Indian head on his hat. They'll probably be a girl with a Patrick Sharp jersey walking a big dog around the neighborhood before the day is over. For Chicago, the dream of another Stanley Cup lived to see another day. For the physical and mental health of this city, I pray it won't take seven games again.