The view from Section 310.
Andrew Ladd saved Mother's Day and Martin Havlat is Jesus.
That's what I learned last night while sitting next to my mother in section 310 of the United Center for the Blackhawks' thrilling 2-1 overtime win over the Vancouver Canucks.
It was my mom's first hockey game, and it almost didn't happen. The odds were stacked strongly against us. After all, yesterday morning she was 2,829 miles away from Chicago in the Anchorage, Alaska airport. (My parents, originally from Chicago, are now permanent residents of Homer, Alaska.) A grumbling Mount Redoubt volcano was threatening to pop its top again and send enough ash into Alaska's air to cancel her trip altogether.
Her flight was scheduled to arrive at O'Hare at 5 p.m. Game time was two hours after that. Between our car in the O'Hare parking lot and the United Center, there stood 18 miles of creeping Thursday afternoon traffic along the Kennedy Expressway.
I convinced my skeptical mother to join me at the game the day before with the following e-mail:
"I'll pick you up at the airport and head into the city with you ... drop off the car ... cab it to the UC and we've got butts in seats for the National Anthem and the most exciting 2 hours of your year so far. Come onnnnnnnnn ....... what would 18-year-old Nina have said?"
I was later told that 18-year-old Nina would have asked if there would be beer at the stadium.
Her flight arrived on time and we corralled luggage and left rather promptly. We were on the road by 5:30, but at 6:20 we had barely passed the Cumberland exit. I cannot stress enough how slowly traffic was creeping.
It became clear to me our path to the United Center no longer included the Kennedy Expressway.
I called an audible, said a little prayer to the Gods of Chicago side streets and pulled off on the Harlem exit to try my luck. I would wind my way through the Far North Side -- taking roads I'd never known existed while speeding through neighborhoods I knew I'd never see again. All of this led us on along a most circuitous route that finally ended at my sister's house in the River North-ish area.
We had 10 minutes to ditch a suitcase, kiss a baby, catch a cab and make it to the UC in time to scream our heads off during the National Anthem.
And were it not for the slowest cab driver ever -- who chose to tip-toe at 40mph along the Kennedy (who does that?!?!) and brazenly refused our plea to exit on Madison Street, opting rather to schlep us down I-290 to the Damen exit -- we might have made it on time. But I digress.
After speed walking a block to the stadium, bounding up the escalators and waiting for a disinterested beer pourer to pour our beers, my mother's 2,800-mile journey from Alaska to section 310 of the United Center was complete.
What followed was some of the most frustrating, exciting, nail-biting hockey -- 57 minutes and 16 seconds of it, to be exact -- that I've ever seen at the United Center. Then with 2:44 left in the third period, Martin Havlat snagged a pass from the entrenched Andrew Ladd on the right side, cut across the middle and fired a wrist shot past Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo -- who until that moment seemed possessed and entirely unflappable.
Before we knew what we'd seen, the horn sounded, they lit the lamp, high fives were being tossed all around us, towels were waving and the Fratellis' "Chelsea Dagger" had the entire crowd hopping in time and screaming their 'da da das.' And my mother had just witnessed her first Blackhawk hockey goal.
As we were leaving the United Center walking down Madison Street within sniffing distance of the Billy Goat's greasy grills someone shouted to no one in particular, "Martin Havlat is Jesus!"
My mother then looked at me and asked, "Did he just say, 'How happy is Jesus?'"
He didn't, but if you think about it ... technically, if Martin Havlat is, indeed, Jesus as this man contests, then I'd venture to guess that at that moment Jesus was very very happy -- to answer the rhetorical question he didn't actually ask.
Just moments before that, my mother was in the midst of experiencing her first hockey overtime.
"This," she said, listening to the crowd's OT-induced overreactions to every pass, check and shot, "is sooo coool."
The overtime would prove short lived -- just 2 minutes, 52 seconds. It's a good thing. I don't think our hearts could have taken much longer.
But luckily, Andrew Ladd saved Mother's Day. If they had given up an overtime goal ... if they'd been forced to return to Vancouver down three games to one ... if all of that excitement and towel waving had been for naught ... well, I think I would have also had to spring for some flowers on Sunday.
So thank God Andrew Ladd saved Mother's Day.
Not only that, but Ladd also catapulted himself from being your standard hard-working Blackhawk to the guy who scored the overtime goal in Game 4 against the Canucks. That's why I love Chicago sports -- sports in any city, for that matter. An otherwise unremarkable athlete can become a legend -- part of a certain team's lore -- in an instant. Just ask Bill Wennington, who once took a pass during a 1995 game against the Knicks from a driving Michael Jordan and dunked it with 3.1 seconds left to give the Bulls a 113-111 win.
But with 17:08 remaining in the first overtime period, Andrew Ladd deflected a shot that slipped past Luongo. And just like that, the Vancouver Canucks suddenly died, the Hawks won and we were very very happy.
So, how did they do it? How did the Blackhawks notch yet another come-from-behind playoff victory?
Coach Joel Quenneville credited the team's resilience and their ability to seize the opportunities that presented themselves.
But if you ask my mother, she'll tell you exactly how they did it: "I said a little prayer."
And Jesus, er, Martin Havlat, answered.