- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- If time is an illusion and all moments are equally real, how do you explain the inhuman concept of the third overtime?
Each game ended with a mix of joy, relief and exhaustion, combined with achievement.
And that's just how the fans felt.
"Both teams are just kicking, trying to survive," Jonathan Toews said after the Blackhawks' 4-3 victory over the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday at the United Center. "Every time you go back on the ice, you just try and get that feeling that it's just going to be that one chance that makes the difference."
Bulls center Nazr Mohammed can relate.
"It's definitely an emotional roller coaster when you're in a game like that," Mohammed said Thursday in a phone conversation about the Bulls' triple-OT home win over Brooklyn on April 27. "At times in the game, it looks like you have it in the bag. At times, the game looks lost and you don't have a chance. It's intense."
The Elias Sports Bureau confirmed this is the first time a city had NBA and NHL teams play in a triple-overtime game in the same postseason. It was the fifth-longest game in Stanley Cup finals history. There have only been seven such games in NBA playoff history.
The Blackhawks' win was obviously more important, and in many ways, much more grueling. Sudden-death games are no joke. But the Bulls were just as intense in that first-round game.
"You get lost in the moment," said Mohammed, who spent much of the game on the bench before coming up big in the final overtime. "I couldn't remember if it was three overtimes or four overtimes. It was just long. You're going to have games that are a couple overtimes. Once you get to triple overtime, you realize, oh my goodness, this is a long game."
Both games featured key late performances from pesky role players. Both featured comebacks in regulation. Both had Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau in attendance.
Thibodeau coached the Bulls to their 142-134 triple-OT victory, and he witnessed most of the Blackhawks' game from a good vantage point.
"I'm sitting down low, and man, they're fast," Thibodeau said in a phone conversation Thursday. "The speed is amazing. They're tough, too."
Don't be surprised if Thibodeau starts telling Jimmy Butler to forecheck.
You have to practically drag Thibodeau off a basketball court, but as a fan, he's just like everyone else, or maybe even worse. He left Wednesday's game early.
"I left with two minutes to go trying to beat crowd out," he said. "I watched the end of regulation in the lobby. Little did I know there was another game remaining."
Thibodeau didn't even have to speed to get home in time to watch the end of the game.
Meanwhile, native Chicagoan Mohammed caught only a few minutes of the Blackhawks game.
"I kept track of the score on Twitter," he said. "I was following [team radio broadcaster] Chuck Swirsky. Every time there was a goal, he's going crazy, giving commentary."
Before it was brought up, Thibodeau didn't think about the rarity of both teams playing a triple-overtime playoff game months apart.
"That was a great game," Thibodeau said. "The competition in that game was so fierce. If you love competition, you couldn't ask for anything more."
Thibodeau is a hockey fan and grew up rooting for regional teams such as the Bruins, Rangers and Whalers in Connecticut. He loves to watch the Blackhawks and says he thinks highly of their leadership group.
"[Joel] Quenneville, and I'm a little biased because he was a Hartford Whaler, to me is a great coach, and he's proven that," Thibodeau said of the Hawks' coach.
In true Thibodeau style, what he really loves is the intensity of hockey. It's hard to know whether he understands the notion of "shifts," though. He'd probably play Toews 57 minutes in regulation.
"The thing I love is they go hard on every play," he said. "They're not patient, that's for sure."
When you have two-plus overtime periods of no goals, you have to be ready for your moment.
Andrew Shaw was the Hawks' hero, redirecting the winning goal off his body to end a game that lasted nearly five hours before ending at 11:59 p.m. CT.
For the Bulls, Mohammed had two key buckets in the third overtime, which saw seven Bulls combine for 15 points. Nate Robinson was a one-man wrecking crew to get the game to overtime.
In the fourth quarter, he scored 23 points and went on a personal 12-0 run in a 1:43 span to cut a 14-point deficit to two with 1:10 left, then smartly assisted on a tying basket.
In the first overtime, Robinson scored what should have been the winning basket, a 23-foot, banking runner. He would foul out in the second overtime, but his heroics wound up on a playoffs commercial. Robinson was the right man for the job that night.
"I always think I'm on fire," he said that night. "Like the old-school game, 'NBA Jam,' you make a couple and the rim's on fire and when you shoot the ball, the ball's on fire. I feel like that at times. Well, all the time. When I'm in the game, I play with a lot of confidence, and you kind of got to lie to yourself that you can't miss."
Hockey players can't summon that kind of confidence. No one says they went "all 'NHL '94.'" They just take it one puck at a time.
When Shaw was asked to describe his game winner, he said, "Luck." It did deflect off his leg, after all.
But really, we know the true definition of luck: preparation meeting opportunity. Mohammed was ready for his moment because he stayed prepared. Robinson knew his role was to score late. Shaw is a gritty player, an irritant who makes things happen.
And most important, goaltender Corey Crawford, like the Bulls' defense, held up late. Good habits pay off.
Crawford made 24 of his 51 saves in the overtime periods.
"I felt a little more zoned in, I think, in OT," Crawford said. "You got to make the next save or it's over. Just focus on everything. Make sure the next one doesn't go in."
Anyone who watches either team wasn't surprised at how they persevered in adverse conditions. The Bulls, despite a litany of injuries, fought hard all season. The Blackhawks faced less adversity, but they played at a peak level nearly all year.
"I see how hard our guys work," Thibodeau said. "I have belief they're capable. If you keep working your game, you should be hopefully in a position to win. The only thing you do is put everything you have into it. You never feel pressure if you only answer to yourself. Only you know how much you put in."
One thing is for sure: The Blackhawks and Bulls put everything they had in those victories.
Hawks and Bulls share a kindred spirit with their triple-OT playoff wins.