The usual drudgery that surrounds the morning skate was replaced by an undercurrent of excitement Monday because the Stanley Cup will be in the house at the United Center on Monday night for Game 6 of the Cup Final. Either the Chicago Blackhawks will skate around with the trophy — their first win on home ice since 1938 — or the Cup will be packed up for a return trip to the Amalie Arena for a decisive seventh game on Wednesday between the Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning.
From rookie defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk to 40-year-old veteran Kimmo Timonen, the Blackhawks did a good job of keeping their emotions in check Monday morning as they made their final preparations for the game and the chance to win the Cup for the third time in six seasons. Still, they appreciated the opportunity that awaits them.
"It's special. You've got to realize how fortunate you are, right?" winger Patrick Kane said. "And that's something everyone is going through. Not just in the game of hockey but pretty much any sport, to have this opportunity to play for three in six years and go to a couple conference finals, play in different things. We've played in a lot of meaningful hockey games.
"I don't want to say it's something we're accustomed to and something we're used to but I think we're fortunate to be in these situations and I think we've worked hard for it, too. Something I think we all deserve in here."
The Blackhawks won their two most recent titles on the road, at Philadelphia in 2010 and at Boston in 2013. The city was buzzing Monday about the possibility the Blackhawks will win at home but defenseman Johnny Oduya said players will use their experience to remain calm and not get caught up in the flurry of emotions.
"We know what's at stake. We try to focus on just the game plan and to execute and play a good hockey game," he said. "They're a tremendous team on the other side and they've shown they can come back in the series. For us, just stay in the moment and enjoy the game and whatever is going to happen afterwards, happens."
Van Riemsdyk, who returned from an injury to play in the third game of the Final, said teammates who have been through this before — and the Blackhawks have seven players appearing in their third Cup Final with the team — have given him advice on how to handle this.
"They've had a couple of things to say. Obviously they've been through it a lot," he said. "In 2010 they were some of the younger guys on the team. They know the things to say, what you need to be aware of. They've been through it a lot. Hopefully that will be a positive."
Timonen, who played for the losing Philadelphia Flyers against the Blackhawks in 2010, was in a reflective mood Monday. He has said this will be the end of his distinguished NHL career, which began when he was drafted by the Kings in 1993 (although he never played for them).
"I've been in every final there is in the hockey world but I haven't won anything, I've always been on the losing part of this side of the story," he said. "I know how to prepare. I know this game. It is a tough game and Tampa Bay is a really good team so we have to play our best game today to make sure we win the game. I just try to prepare for the first 20 minutes, first shift and make sure everybody's ready to go."
He's averaging only eight minutes and 57 seconds' ice time per game in the playoffs and at times has looked dangerously slow. He joked that his main job is "to make sure the water bottles are full of water," but it's clear this means a lot to him. It's also likely that if the Blackhawks win, he will get the Cup from team captain Jonathan Toews, the traditional sign of respect to a player who has waited a long time to hoist the trophy.
"I don't want to even think about that far. If that happens, that's great," he said. "But that's one of those things when you want to say to yourself, 'Stop it.' We have a big game and whatever happens we win or lose, we move on and see what happens after."
We'll all see tonight.