I didn't have to sit outside in the lakefront swirl Saturday night, so I won't even try to justify being as brave as the 61,000 Blackhawks die-hards who were exposed to the elements. I was among the fortunate in the warmth of the southeast-corner press box for a couple of periods, the biggest inconvenience through this latest 2014 storm being my occasional struggle to see exactly what was going on down below. From the inside, there were times we'd look out and above, and the snowflakes actually seemed to be rising. But I didn't have to worry about the gusts of wind and the snow biting at my face that Hawks fans endured for more than three hours (at least the ones who stuck it out until the very end). For that, let's hope those who remained to the finish accepted the players' raised-stick salute as the fireworks went off following the 5-1 victory.
For those watching in the comforts of home, it had to be a delight — not having to worry about the pain of sub-zero wind chills, watching their favorite team through the Soldier Field Snow Globe and watching them win in convincing fashion without having to worry about lines for hot beverages and the restrooms. And watch their captain win a convincing, occasional head-to-head battle with the most celebrated player in the game today.
Jonathan Toews versus Sidney Crosby was a long time coming, and anyone around the country who had missed what Toews has done for — and what he has meant to — these Hawks over the past five years got a prime-time example amid this continuing, seemingly endless Polar Vortex. He'd never admit it, but ask anyone else and they'd swear the captain had an extra jump in his step, perhaps something to prove on the national stage before his fans, Olympic hangover or not.
It had been five years since the Wrigley Field Winter Classic, before this organization attained the kind of consistent excellence our town hasn't seen since the Bulls' pair of three-peats over eight years. And after this second opportunity to host an outdoor game, in a different venue, we don't know when the next one will come along. We don't know how this team will look if, and when, that opportunity comes again. "Romantic" is the way Michal Handzus described it, and as his days in the NHL wind down, it's probably a night he'll never forget — perhaps even second to winning the Stanley Cup last June.
With that unknown future, despite the solid foundation the franchise has built, there will never be another night like Saturday night. The fans came in full force. The weather came in full force. And these Blackhawks came close to full force. One of the nights when our city, and this hockey team, stole the stage.
The players are looking forward to things getting back to "normal" though, and that starts Tuesday against an upstart, young Colorado team they'd face in the first round of the playoffs if they were to start right now. It's an Avalanche team that's won two more games than the Hawks. They have two home games left against the rival they trail in the Central and have yet to beat. And while St. Louis made a statement trade the other day to seemingly strengthen itself even more, now the Blues suddenly find it tough to score goals since returning from the Olympics.
If things stand as they are, it'll be a challenging road for these Blackhawks, who've either met those challenges with flying colors the last five years, or been stunned in the first round. We all have our ideas on how the next six weeks, and then the second season, will play out.
That's why Saturday night turned into one of those special nights to savor and remember, as special a moment as it gets during the regular season. Here's hoping all of you were able to enjoy it before we experience whatever the rest of this Stanley Cup defense brings.