In a bathroom inside the United Center near the media work area not long before his son made Blackhawks history late Saturday night, Pat Kane Sr. looked as anxious as Chicago felt.
"Going to be quite a finish," I said upon encountering Mr. Kane.
The man who helped talk Patrick Kane through his recent mini-slump heard me, but his mind was too preoccupied to listen.
"Thank you," he said politely.
Indeed, the right words escaped us all at times as the Blackhawks eliminated the Kings in the second overtime of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals when Kane made his dad proud by scoring the clincher after 91 minutes, 40 seconds of unforgettable hockey.
That went for emotionally spent players and coaches too after the game-winner soared past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick's glove at 11:02 p.m. CDT — Cup Daylight Time.
"We were laughing about it," Kane said. "If you watch the bench after we score, it almost seems like it was just another goal. No one could celebrate because we were all so tired."
The exhausting, exhilarating victory that sent the Hawks into the Stanley Cup Final that begins Wednesday ultimately created the type of experience everybody at the arena, from sportswriters to concessionaires, felt fortunate to be a part of once it ended. You hated all the waiting, the uncertainty, the ups and downs. But when it was all over, you loved being in the middle of how the West was won at 1901 W. Madison.
What the Hawks did in beating the defending NHL champions four times in eight days sounds like a deal that would get caught by your spam filter: Earn a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in a week! Yet the Hawks did precisely that, making their 3-1 deficit to the Red Wings 18 days ago that portended big changes seem like it was 18 months ago.
"It's a very fine line," Jonathan Toews said when asked what has changed. "Being the Presidents' Trophy winner, that puts a lot of pressure on your team. Everyone expects you to cruise all the way there. There's no such thing as just cruising to the Stanley Cup Final."
Suddenly, the same team that couldn't get out of its own way against Detroit stands within four wins of sparking a civic discussion on sports dynasties. Clinching the conference title in 2010 generated Hawks fever in the city. Three years later, reaching the same level has produced an epidemic.
For Chicagoans, Kane's goal provided a dramatic where-were-you-when moment comparable to Michael Jordan hitting the shot over Bryon Russell to beat the Jazz for the 1998 NBA title.
Or Scott Podsednik drilling a walk-off home run for the White Sox to win Game 2 of the 2005 World Series. Or Wilber Marshall returning a fumble for a touchdown for the Bears in the 1985 NFC championship game. Or Jordan beating Craig Ehlo, the buzzer and the Cavaliers with The Shot in 1989.
Everything leading up to Kane's singular, significant moment felt exciting, occasionally excruciating and often indescribable. Yet somehow Hawks radio play-by-play man John Wiedeman found a way to describe the final sequence proudly for posterity, in real time.
"Toews has it," Wiedeman began. "Two-on-one break for the win. Over the King line left wing, to Kane he scores! The Hawks are going to the Stanley Cup Final! The Blackhawks have dethroned the defending Stanley Cup champion LA Kings. The Kings are royalty no more."
The Kings are dead, long live Kaner. Sunday marked the three-year anniversary of Kane clinching the Cup in Game 6 against the Flyers with an overtime goal – on June 9, 2010. But as historic as that was, June 8, 2013, always will be the date that serves as a truer benchmark of Kane's individual brilliance. His hat trick in 2009 against the Canucks remains special, but nobody handed out commemorative hats after that one.
Kane became the first player to score three goals to clinch a Cup Final berth since Wayne Gretzky did it for the Kings in 1993. Great company indeed.
"Right now I think it's like I'm in the Twilight Zone or something," Kane said.
Outside the Hawks locker room just before midnight, teammates in a similarly happy daze lingered. Bryan Bickell rounded up family and friends. Niklas Hjalmarsson posed for pictures. Corey Crawford, a front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy, slowly walked alone with his thoughts down a hallway.
How much fun was that, Crawford was asked.
"The best," he said.
Six months ago, nobody knew if the NHL would play this season. As we await another Stanley Cup Final after a time-capsule Saturday night in Chicago, nobody wants it to end.
I say Hawks beat the Bruins in seven when it does.