What will playoffs be like with no fans in attendance?
June 15, 2015. Tampa Bay at Chicago, Game 6 Stanley Cup Final. No score, second period:
"Sent high by Paquette. Settled down, but could not be controlled by Brown. Touched right back up to Kane on the wing ... laid one across and it's KEITH. A SHOT. SAVE! REBOUND ... HE SCOOOOOOOOOORES!"
Close your eyes for a second. You can see, hear and feel that stadium-rocking goal by Duncan Keith that helped lift the Blackhawks to a 2-0, Stanley Cup-clinching victory over Tampa Bay, and not long after, the Cup was being presented to Jonathan Toews as 21,000-plus roared their approval.
Six weeks from now -- assuming everything goes as planned -- the playoffs will begin under circumstances no one could have ever imagined.
Twenty-four teams will compete in a few hub cities, skating up and down the ice with nary a fan in attendance. Every goal, every miraculous save, every board-crunching hit will be met by the decibel equivalent of a pin drop.
Imagine what it would have looked like in an empty United Center on May 29, 2013, as the Hawks and Red Wings were locked in a 1-1 tie during Game 7 of the Western Conference semis when ...
"That one gloved down by Harrington. Filtered ahead now and Nyquist -- oh my, he's run into by Bolland. Right back ahead comes Seabrook ... with a shot. HE SCOOOOOOOOOOORES!"
Crickets. Silence. Nothing.
That's where we're headed, folks.
"I think all of us would say it would be a really weird situation," Patrick Kane said last week during a video conference call with reporters. "Maybe looking back on it now, you kind of take it for granted. It's amazing playing in front of 22,000 fans every night. Even playing on the road, Blackhawks fans travel so well. ...
"It would be totally different. It would obviously take away from some type of atmosphere for sure."
Said Hawks defenseman Connor Murphy: "It'd be kind of a different format than anything we've seen. But just having any sort of opportunity to play in a playoff series ... and win the Stanley Cup is amazing, and I think it'll just be a lot of fun."
As for the competitiveness? The fire? The players' will to win?
Kane, Murphy and Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton don't believe that will be an issue.
"We've all played games with not many people in the stands, but certainly to do it in an NHL playoff circumstance will be different," Colliton said. "I think we'll feel the energy just because of the stakes and the Stanley Cup being on the line.
"It's going to be priceless for our young players."
The Hawks are slated to play Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers in a best-of-five play-in series, one of eight matchups around the NHL. The winner will square off against either St. Louis, Vegas, Colorado or Dallas in a best-of-seven series to officially begin the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Kane and Co. finished with just 72 points and had virtually no chance of reaching the postseason under normal circumstances. Giving a second life to teams like the Hawks, Coyotes, Canadiens and Rangers was met with criticism in some circles.
The decision obviously pleased Colliton, though, and he wasn't worried about how fair it may or may not seem.
"I wasn't shocked. I knew it was a possibility," he said. "We're happy for the opportunity to play. We thought we improved as the year went on. The second half we took some major strides as a group. Our young players continue to get better and they're a big (reason) why we feel good about our team going forward.
"Fairness? I mean ... sometimes you play 82 games and somebody loses on goal difference or by a point or whatever it may be. Those are circumstances that sort out the way they do ... and you make the best of it. So that's what we're going to do."