CHICAGO – It’s a funny thing about handshakes.
Some people love them. It’s a sign of respect, they say.
Some people hate them. It’s a big festival of germs, they say.
Both sides make good points.
But it would have been pretty tough to find anyone within a hundred hockey rinks of the United Center who wanted to watch a handshake before they went to bed Wednesday.
A handshake would have represented the end of the Blackhawks’ season. A handshake would have meant some other team in some other city would hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The handshake didn’t happen. Not on Wednesday, at least. Not after 37-year-old Michal Handzus rushed toward the net and calmly flipped a backhanded shot past Jonathan Quick, saving the Hawks’ season. The goal at 2:04 of double overtime lifted the Hawks to a 5-4 win against the Los Angeles Kings and forced Game 6 on Friday at Staples Center.
Handzus?!? Yes, Handzus.
“He’s such a warrior,” Hawks forward Patrick Kane said with a smile during a postgame interview from the bench. “He plays in huge moments. Huge goal.”
Personally, I’m a fan of handshakes. Firm grip, look ’em in the eye, as my dad likes to say.
But if handshakes aren’t your preference, that’s fine. Fist bumps can be fun. Bowing toward someone is almost as old as dinosaurs, maybe. Head nods can make you feel good.
The Hawks deserve a handshake or a fist bump or whatever you prefer.
Because they could have quit after a 3-1 lead in Game 5 somehow turned into a 4-3 deficit late in the second period. They could have stopped battling, figuring that two championships in the previous four seasons would help get them through the summer.
Instead, the Hawks pressed on like the champs that they are.
With the score even at 4 and shots on goal at 44 apiece, Handzus whacked at shot No. 45 and became the hero. Quick slumped to his stomach as fans leaped to their feet.
Suddenly, the Hawks are one win away from forcing a winner-take-all Game 7. On home ice. For the chance to go – again – to the Stanley Cup Final.
Am I getting ahead of myself? Yes.
Am I about to doubt the Hawks after their latest crazy win? No way.
As the goal horn blared, Kane and teammate Nick Leddy were the first to greet Handzus. Leddy patted him on the head with his glove. A slew of Hawks players were on the way, storming over the bench to mob their eldest teammate.
No handshakes. Only hugs and glove bumps and head pats.
As the celebration lingered and Kings players retreated and fans happily tossed red towels on to the ice, Hawks captain Jonathan Toews skated toward his team’s bench and parked right in front of its swinging door. He waited for his teammates to arrive, and soon they did.
Johnny Oduya: High five from Toews.
Ben Smith: High five from Toews.
Kane: High five from Toews.
It kept going, high five after high five, until the only player remaining on the ice besides Toews was Handzus. He was giving a live interview on national television, which is part of what comes with being a double-overtime hero. As he spoke, the crowd chanted “Zuuuus.”
Inside of the locker room after the game, Hawks players said they never entertained doubts despite a third-period deficit that put their season on the brink of elimination.
“We knew we weren’t out of it,” Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “It was right there.”
The Hawks seized it. Regardless of how this series ends, they deserve our respect.
Firm grip. Look ’em in the eye.
• Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.