LOS ANGELES – Boy, was I worried.
If not for the Blackhawks, I might have lost whatever marbles I had remaining.
But while signs of trouble popped up everywhere around me in the City of Angels, the Hawks came back to beat the Los Angeles Kings, 3-2, restoring order to the part of my brain that processes sticks and pucks.
“The guys hung in there,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
So did I. Barely.
The Hawks grabbed a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference finals and snapped the Kings’ 15-game winning streak on home ice, which included an 8-0 mark in the playoffs. Now, the Hawks will return home with a chance to clinch the series Saturday in front of a raucous sellout crowd at the United Center.
No way could the Hawks’ long flight home be as bumpy as the path to a Game 4 win.
The Kings grabbed a 1-0 lead before Bryan Bickell tied the score at 1-1. The Kings grabbed a 2-1 lead before Patrick Kane tied the score at 2-2. Then, finally, Marian Hossa gave the Hawks a lead with a one-time blast that flew past Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick at a speed I’ve never reached in an automobile.
That was nerve-wracking, right? How could it not be?
Hossa smiled kindly as if to say, there, there, you suburban sportswriter.
“I guess a little experience helps,” Hossa said. “You go through the crucial times before.
“You just have to not worry about what’s going around you. Just focus on the game and the next shift, and you can forget about the nervousness. That’s how I try to do it.”
That’s how I’ll try to do it going forward.
Because everywhere I looked, signs of trouble seemed to emerge.
At first, I ignored my instincts. Look straight ahead. Keep going forward. Don’t slow down.
But when doubt creeps in, and then it creeps in some more, it eventually bangs down your door.
Take, for instance, a remote-controlled blimp that buzzed near the top of the Staples Center with the score tied during the second intermission.
“This Is The End,” a message proclaimed on the side of the blimp. “June 12.”
Wait a minute. If this series goes to Game 7, it will be played June 12.
I felt worried and confused. Exactly whose end was near? The Hawks? The Kings?
The blimp bobbed along cheerfully – way too cheerfully – while I pondered its message.
Maybe it would have been no big deal, but on my way to the game a few hours earlier, I walked by a row of tattered posters a few blocks from the stadium. The posters advertised a horror movie called “The Purge,” which opens in theaters today.
“Reminder all emergency services will be suspended for a 12-hour period during THE PURGE,” the posters screamed.
Oh, great. Nightmares tonight.
This is Hollywood, I reminded myself. All of this is make-believe.
My readers are real. The Hawks are real. I’m real.
Unless there might be more than one of me.
I walked to a Mexican restaurant for lunch. It’s called El Cholo. Science-fiction author Ray Bradbury lived nearby and was a big fan, according to one of his letters that was published on the back of the menu.
The waiter smiled as he approached my table.
“Nice to see you again!” he said.
I froze. I had never stepped foot in that restaurant. I had no idea how to respond.
“You, too!” I agreed.
Maybe there was another me roaming the streets of Los Angeles.
Two days earlier, I had checked into an old hotel in downtown. It might be haunted, some reviews warned.
“I’ll just need to see your passport,” the desk clerk said.
Um. How about my drivers’ license?
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought from your accent that you were international.”
At first, he said, he thought I sounded German. I told him I was from Missouri.
Too many worries filled my brain.
Where was I? Who was I? And just how good were the Hawks, anyway?
Then, Hossa scored.
The Hawks won.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.