"We all know [the United Center] is the greatest home-ice advantage in the League. It makes it all the easier to hit the ice flying, playing hard, and creating advantages out of the energy of this building."
-- Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews
– Could it be a flashback to 1973? Perhaps 1992?
Well, it's doubtful that Patrick Kane
is rocking Stan Mikita
lapels or Jeremy Roenick
leather, or that Nikolai Khabibulin
's trousers are quite as tight as Tony Esposito
's might have been some 36 years ago. And down the hall, no Chicago Bulls have been seen smoothing their way home in circa-seventies tams or nineties-vintage Cosby sweaters.
But what's undeniable is that the United Center has spent this spring rocking harder than it ever has, with two playoff teams making deep, stirring runs in the playoffs.
The Bulls have long been the master of the UC domain, selling out even in the depths of their early-decade despair. But they may even have slid a shade behind their arena partners in terms of buzz and overall popularity, for the first time in recent memory. In fact, the roundballers cribbed the Blackhawks' most notable new tune, the goal-celebration ditty from "that beer commercial" ("Chelsea Dagger" by The Fratellis), as the arena PA was blaring that very tune to celebrate Chicago's Game 6, triple-overtime win over the Boston Celtics on April 30.
The Bulls have since bowed out of postseason play, losing the decisive Game 7 in Boston on Saturday night, just as the Blackhawks shifted the momentum in their semifinal series with a stirring second period and 6-3 win in Game 2. But it's safe to say the dust that has settled in the United Center rafters over the past several seasons has been shaken fully loose today.
"We all know [the United Center] is the greatest home-ice advantage in the League," Hawks center Jonathan Toews
said. "It makes it all the easier to hit the ice flying, playing hard, and creating advantages out of the energy of this building."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville
was skating in the NHL before his young captain was born, but the mentor is sure he hasn't seen anything like the electricity the home fans are charging the United Center with this postseason.
"Every game, [the energy] seems to be going up a notch," he said. "By our last game [Game 5 vs. Calgary in the first round], the place was smoking hot from the National Anthem forward."
Chicago's return to the hockey map under new head man Rocky Wirtz has been well recounted, and already a local legend: half-empty boxes transformed into guaranteed game sellouts, a Western Conference nonentity suddenly hosting a stirring 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, a series of stubborn personnel missteps turned to savvy drafting and a young team on the rise. Still, the owner remains in awe over the reception.
"None of this [fan embrace] was guaranteed us," Wirtz said. "I was amazed at how we bounced back a year ago [with a string of sellouts ending a playoff-less 2007-08]. We are so proud of and honored by Blackhawks fans. Sit inside here during these playoffs, and you'd swear it was three or four decades ago."
The UC may not be the Madhouse on Madison of Chicago Stadium seasons past, but this newer house holding the Blackhawks and Bulls is finally learning to shake just the same.