|At exactly four minutes into the third period, I decided it was over.
Remember this time, I thought. When people ask you about it tomorrow, you can say that you weren’t blindly hoping until the end.
It had been a gruelling six games and two periods. The Blackhawks had fallen to the Canucks 3-0 in the series on the Sunday that I’d come back from Chicago. Only three teams in NHL history had come back from being down 3-0 in a series, and one team did it last year. What were the chances it could happen again?
It was nearly impossible, I knew. Yet here they were, in game 7. They had at least made it here, and winning one more game didn’t seem that difficult. They had all the momentum; their captain knew the Canucks could be exposed; the Rat was finally back.
But the third period was underway, and the Blackhawks had not shown any signs of life. They were badly outshot and hadn’t managed a single goal; luckily, Corey Crawford had held the Canucks to just one. And with sixteen minutes left, I chose to lean back on my couch and relax. No more superstitions. No more yelling coaching tactics at the TV. In sixteen minutes, one of my favourite teams would be done for the season. If I couldn’t enjoy watching them play now, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it for another five months.
Of course, these concepts were foreign to me after the last season. Less than a year before that day, I’d watched twenty-two glorious Blackhawks playoff games. The regular season had ended well and as the playoffs began, I felt completely confident that Chicago would waltz its way to the Stanley Cup Final. I encountered many doubters over the months, but I never stopped believing. Not like I did four minutes into the third period of game 7.
I’ve only been a Blackhawks fan since 2007. I remember the day I bought a copy of the Hockey News with the headline “Windy City Revival” in front of a picture of beaming rookies Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. I’d come a long way since then when the Blackhawks made the playoffs for the second straight year in 2010. I’d seen them acquire and deal away some of my favourite players, develop amazing talent, and eventually fall to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2009 Western Conference Final.
But 2010 was the year. I could feel it. The team was hungry to improve on last season, and that meant making the Stanley Cup Final. I watched as many of their regular season games as I could and felt as energized as the team once the playoffs began. They started slowly, dropping two of their first three games to the Nashville Predators, and I became a little nervous. The Predators could surprise, and the Blackhawks were underachieving. But once they took control of their first-round series, there was no stopping the Hawks. They stomped over the Canucks, as per usual; swept the San Jose Sharks in a close series; and finally, they were competing for the Stanley Cup.
By the end of the May, when the Finals started, I’d developed numerous superstitious tendencies. I refused to tell anyone about them, and I took them so seriously that I could have probably been treated for obsessive-compulsive disorder. I had also faced opposition from different people in my life in every series – someone was always cheering against me and my Blackhawks. They taunted me whenever the Blackhawks lost, but I took the high road and decided not to retaliate. If I was lucky, karma would be on my side and power my team through while I took the verbal lashings.
I don’t remember much of the Stanley Cup Final. It was against the Philadelphia Flyers, of course. The entire time was a haze of emotions – I was either euphoric or completely down-trodden. Most of the time I was stressed just thinking about the next game, the next goal, the next faceoff. I kept up my superstitions and the Hawks won the first two games, and I started to relax a little more. Once the series switched to Philadelphia, however, the Flyers quickly erased the advantage the Blackhawks had. The teams returned to Chicago with the series tied at two.
I panicked. I ran all my superstitions through my head trying to figure out what I’d done wrong. I knew my actions weren’t affecting the team, but the series was so crucial that I just had to think I was contributing positively in some way.
The Blackhawks won game 5. Though happy to have the advantage back, I was overwhelmed with nervousness. The Blackhawks could win game 6, and I could finally see one of my teams lift the Cup; but they could also lose, like they did the first two games in Philly, and anything could happen in game 7.
I watched game 6 at home, on my couch, keeping up my obsessive-compulsiveness throughout the entire game. Someone phoned me in the middle of it, and I nearly yelled at the caller during the conversation as I watched Niklas Hjalmarsson take a shot on net. The Blackhawks took the lead and I started to get excited about the possibility that they might win.
Before I knew it, it was like I was watching my worst hockey-related nightmare happening in front of me. The Flyers tied up the game with minutes left. It was going to overtime.
I thought I was going to faint. I could not take any more of the stress. I couldn’t watch – what if the Flyers scored? What if Claude Giroux ended the game in overtime again? I spent the fifteen minute intermission trying to relax, but it was hopeless.
By the time overtime began, I’d moved from the couch to the end of the footstool. I expected the worst, but I knew I’d have to be in a better position to jump with joy in case the Blackhawks managed to pull out a victory. The overtime period is a blur to me; I was so nervous that I honestly couldn’t enjoy it. And then –
Patrick Kane shot the puck at the net – the commentator thought it had been stopped – Kane threw his gloves in the air as he skated behind the net, and Blackhawks jumped off the bench – but I hadn’t seen the goal light come on – and suddenly I realized what had happened.
The Blackhawks had won the Stanley Cup.
My immediate reaction was to burst into tears. I started bawling instantly. One of my friends phoned to congratulate me and I simply cried on the phone to her. The moment was anticlimactic as Kane’s goal had to be reviewed, but once I knew what had just transpired before me, the emotions were too overwhelming. The stress relief, the pure joy of watching my team win the Cup, witnessing the longest Cup drought in the NHL come to an end – it was all too much.
Once I’d calmed down, I left to grab a bottle of champagne and my Toews jersey (which I hadn’t worn for superstitious reasons) and sat on the floor in front of my TV to watch my favourite player lift the Cup. I knew that I’d get to see the happiness in his face as he did so every Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada for the next year.
And here I was, ten months later, on the same couch in the same jersey – reliving the good memories of last season as I prepared for their current season to end. I tried to tell myself that at least I’d gotten to witness the Blackhawks win last year. But all I could focus on was the fact that it wouldn’t be happening again this season. I’d given up.
With five minutes left in the game, I took off my Toews jersey and sat in the same shirt I’d worn for every game the year before. I don’t know why I did it – I had told myself two weeks earlier not to fall into the same superstitious habits again. My spirits were not lifted as the Blackhawks took a penalty, and I started tearing up as the season was winding down on an awful note.
I can’t describe the play to you. I don’t know who made the pass, or which defenceman messed up, or who else was even on the ice. All I know is Jonathan Toews was killing a penalty, was taken down in the Canucks zone, and all of a sudden the puck was in the net. My favourite player had scored a short-handed goal in the final minutes to take the game to overtime.
Once again, I burst into tears. My phone vibrated non-stop as my friends checked to make sure I was alive. I collapsed on my knees on the floor in complete disbelief. Game 7 overtime. Anything could happen.
It was past eleven o’clock by the time the third period ended, but I bounced around my house in excitement. I felt a renewed optimism. Unlike the year before, nervousness didn’t hit until I settled back down on my couch, the jersey still beside me, at the start of the first overtime period.
Chris Campoli screwed up. I won’t forget it any time soon. He made a blind pass within the first five minutes that wound up on Alexandre Burrows’ stick. Burrows made no mistake once he had the puck, and fired it over Crawford’s right shoulder into the back of the net. And thus the Canucks had defeated the Blackhawks in the playoffs for the first time in three tries. And the Blackhawks’ season was officially over.
Sports fans are often criticized for their seemingly blind devotion to their teams. After all, sports are simply there for our entertainment. I don’t know how I ever became so invested in the Blackhawks, but I know that they have caused multiple emotional overloads for me, both good and bad. Sometimes it’s hard for me to think about either playoff run – the most recent one ended horrifyingly. Even the Stanley Cup Championship can make me queasy, just reliving the emotional roller coaster I was on for two months in 2010. Nothing compares to watching your team win the ultimate prize. I can name plenty of occasions that could and should make a person happier, but cheering for your team is a different kind of happiness.
And I know watching Kane and Toews score those goals created for me a sense of pure joy.