Putting Chicago on ice

To get a full and complete feel of how truly "all-in" this city is with this Blackhawks team, the United Center was not the place to be as Dave Bolland's shot found the back of an empty net with 14 seconds left in Game 5 on Saturday.

In the guts of River North was.

From Bub City to American Junkie to Mother Hubbard's and Theory to Siena Tavern back to Public House, a simultaneous collective soul-bearing roar could be heard down Hubbard Street. Immediately afterward, "Chelsea Dagger." Anthem-ized. In unison. In sync. Inescapable.

If you go around the city and all the surrounding suburbs from Batavia to Markham, you'll know that this Cup run is different than the one before. In 2010 most of us were caught off-guard. It had been almost 50 years since Lord Stanley's Cup spent time in the Chi and we found ourselves as a city stuck between "wishing" it could happen and "realizing" there was a realistic possibility that winning it was going to happen.

Off-guard doesn't live here anymore. This time we know.

And not because the Blackhawks are up 3-2 in the finals, one game away from bringing the most storied trophy in all of sports back to its rightful residence, but because, from the beginning of this lockout-shortened season, this team has prepared the entire city for this moment.

The Hawks have immortalized "21-0-3" for their fan base. Twenty-four games without a regulation loss is etched in the record books.

That put the rest of this season in a historical context. It forced the entire city to take notice and become a part of the Blackhawks' ride early. Earlier than ever before. A genesis that set the stage for something more special than this being just another Stanley Cup championship for the Blackhawks if they're the team that shatters the Bruins' dream and ends up hoisting the Cup.

The 2010 season was a fan's gamble. This season is a city's investment. This season instantly became bigger than just a regular season and this team instantly bigger than just a team on a regular-season run for the Cup.

If you want to know the difference between on a bandwagon and being a part of a movement, you're in it. Chicago has taken to this Blackhawks squad in ways almost unimaginable. In ways that almost make the White Sox 2005 World Series run seem transitory; closer to what you'd think it would feel like if the Cubs were ever to play in October.

(Even the CSO is caught up, contributing to the movement the best way they know how.)

Joel Quenneville is part of the edifice now, he's soaked into the foundation that bridges the neighborhoods together. He fits. He's a member of the Mafia familia that all coaches who win here are indoctrinated into. You'll see his face painted on the walls of Carson's soon. His mustache now has joined the sports bar conversation with Mike Ditka's.

"This team is more special than any Blackhawk team in recent memory," a Hawks fan named Joel (not Quenneville) said to me on the streets Saturday night while standing outside El Hefe. "It doesn't even matter if they win or lose, they've, like, taken over this town."

Just a few CTA rides around the city will prove that statement true. Blackhawks crests on display everywhere. Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Brent Seabrook have IGM-like fanbases. Non-die-hard fans know who Ray Emery is and ponder his return every time a shot gets past Corey Crawford's glove. There's a presence with this team that didn't seem to exist before.

Here's the movement in perspective: In 2010 fans called Hawks goalie Antti Niemi by his full name. All the time. Even after they won the Stanley Cup. Today, the man in net is on a first-name basis with us all: Corey. That's it. That's the difference.

We have somehow found a way to be more personal with this team. They've grown in front of us. We've gone through it with them. They know us just as well as we know them. Chicago -- I'm going out on a limb here -- probably appreciates this team more than any other current team in the city.

We tend to respect those that grow on their own and on their own terms. Which is what this Blackhawks team has done; which is why this feels so different this time around.

Which is also a large part of the reason we are all here riding these Hawks to and through the end.

Or until "Chelsea Dagger" stops playing.