- Wayne Drehs
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CHICAGO -- Adam Burish couldn't hear. He couldn't hear the music. He couldn't hear his coach. He couldn't hear his teammates. He said it was the single most deafening moment he's heard. Louder than any other sporting event or concert he's been to.
And the game wasn't even over.
"I've never heard anything louder in my life," he said of the 22,687 screaming Blackhawks fans who filled the United Center on Monday night and likely will head to work Tuesday without their voices. "And I've been to some pretty good heavy metal concerts."
Things were so deafening that Burish and his Blackhawks teammates had to play telephone to pass coach Joel Quenneville's messages up and down the bench. It was so deafening that they had to use hand signals to communicate among each other.
Welcome to the new Madhouse on Madison, the home of the once-left-for-dead franchise that refuses to go away, refuses to quit and, in doing so, has taught a depressed sports city that it's OK to have hope. It's OK to believe. The unthinkable actually can happen.
Take Monday night's 7-5 victory over Vancouver, for example. No coach looking to keep his hair would draw up a game plan that would include surrendering three straight goals to turn a 3-1 lead into a 4-3 deficit. No coach would hope his team would fall behind twice in the final period. The Hawks did both against Vancouver. And yet, when the final horn sounded here Monday, there were those 22,687 fans screaming, yelling, jumping and celebrating the team's first trip to the Western Conference finals since 1995.
"I believe," general manager Dale Tallon said afterward. "You have to believe. You have to believe in these kids."
Against the Canucks, "these kids" overcame a first-period deficit in five of the six games, three of which they came back to win. They overcame dumb penalties, sloppy turnovers and, at times, lackadaisical play. But they never quit. They never gave up. Even Monday, when the Canucks scored three straight goals and it felt like someone had used a power vacuum to suck the life out of the United Center, they responded.
They made Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, supposedly the best goalie in the world, look as pedestrian as the guy flipping burgers down the street at the Billy Goat Tavern. Patrick Kane, who Vancouver defenseman Willie Mitchell said couldn't play five-on-five hockey, scored a hat trick. Jonathan Toews, Kris Versteeg and Burish added goals of their own. And now, the supposedly bigger, stronger, tougher and more experienced playoff team is headed back to Canada. And the Hawks are moving on.
A big reason, Burish believes, is the laid-back atmosphere that surrounds the team. The pregame dressing room is filled with techno, hip-hop and rap music. Players are constantly ribbing one another. Monday night's pregame target was Dustin Byfuglien, one of the stars of Chicago's Game 5 victory in Vancouver.
"We were teasing him that we'd sure like to read more about him in the paper," Burish said. "We kept telling him to keep his head in check -- one game doesn't make a career.
"It's like a college apartment with a bunch of 20-year-olds in here. We're just constantly cracking jokes and having fun."
Which was fitting Monday, as Chicago's 7-5 victory was downright laughable. Four goals were scored in the game's final eight minutes, two of those by Kane. Every time the public address announcer tried to announce who had assisted on and scored a goal, another puck was crashing into the net.
And that's why Burish couldn't hear. That's why he couldn't tell whether the music playing was AC/DC or Ozzy Osbourne.
Now the Chicago Blackhawks are dreaming big. And they want to take every Chicago sports fan -- whether they understand hockey or not -- along for the ride. Four more wins, and Chicago will play for the Stanley Cup. Eight more, and the spire atop the new Trump Tower might need to be rebuilt in the shape of the hockey's most famous trophy.
"At this point, why not dream big?" defenseman Brian Campbell said. "Why not dream about winning it all? That's why we're here."
Prior to the playoff opener a couple of weeks ago against Calgary, Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz himself admitted his only goal was to reach the playoffs. Anything else, he said, would be a bonus. But then the Hawks beat Calgary, and then Vancouver. Now, either Detroit or Anaheim awaits. And everyone in this city is yet again changing their expectations, whether they can hear or not.
"I think we've adjusted our goal about four or five times this year," Burish said. "And I'm okay with that."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Wayne on Twitter at ESPNWayneDrehs.
A city that has known nothing but heartbreak from its sports teams now has a team to believe in.