High Anxiety in Chicago for Blackhawks
The reaction in Chicago? Uh-oh.
"Do you really think they can win the Cup?" asked the young man behind the registration desk at the hotel on Chicago's Magnificent Mile.
"I'm excited about the Hawks, but I'm not sure this is the year," said a woman at the next table in a store that attempts to make bagels.
The cabbie on the way to the United Center: "The White Sox won the World Series a few years ago, so I guess there's hope for the Blackhawks. But most of the people I talk to, they just don't think they're ready."
Maybe it's not Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and the young Blackhawks who aren't ready. Maybe it's Chicago.
The back page of the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday featured an illustration of a piano poised to crash-land on the Stanley Cup. The headline was "DROP ZONE" with a warning that "fans should brace themselves for potential pitfalls." Inside, the veteran columnist wrote: "Isn't the wise thing -- the time-honored Chicago thing -- to brace yourself for inevitable hardship? That way when it comes, it won't come as such a shock."
Let's go over this again. The Blackhawks lead the Sharks 2-0 in the series. To break the Windy City's collective heart, San Jose would have to win four out of five games. Three will be played at the United Center, where the locals rock the joint to its foundation during the National Anthem. Where the Blackhawks were 29-8-4 this season.
Perhaps veteran center John Madden, who won a pair of Stanley Cups in New Jersey, has the best approach.
"Chicago is counting on some great things," said the 37-year-old Madden after practice Thursday at the United Center. "You have to channel it the right way. When we got home yesterday, my kids wouldn't let me watch the TV if I wanted to. I hadn't been home in eight days. They wanted to hang out with Dad. That was fine with me. The distractions can be too much. If you have to, turn the TV and the radio off. Maybe even turn the cell phone off."
Adam Burish had a different kind of first night back in Chicago.
"I went to dinner last night. The moment I got out of the taxi, people were going crazy," said Burish, the 27-year-old energizer forward for the Blackhawks. "This town is pumped up for what could be ahead. The building is going to be alive on Friday. As long as we don't feel like we have to put on a show for them with fancy goals, we'll be all right."
The feeling around Chicago is that this is coming too easily for their Blackhawks, which is understandable. No one saw Joel Quenneville's team winning seven playoff games in a row on the road. Few predicted the Hawks taking the first two games in Chicago. Blackhawks beat writers booked flights for a Game 5 in San Jose before the conference final started.
Thanks to the commitment of Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz to re-connect the fans to the team's history, Hull, Mikita and Tony Esposito will be here this weekend. The three legends are true believers, not because they're in the staff directory as ambassadors, but because they know a Stanley Cup in Chicago is not a dream.
Until the Blackhawks seal the deal, the rest of the faithful will not sleep easily.