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A thrilling Blackhawks comeback and a reminder of why we watch sports

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A reflection after a raucous night at the United Center.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Where else but sports?

Where else can you soar to such euphoric heights after plummeting to to the deepest depths of despair?

Where else can you find something that’s so engrossing, so enthralling that it captures every molecule of your being and refuses to let go?

For about an hour-and-a-half on Wednesday evening, the Blackhawks were spiraling towards the end of the competitive portion of the season, falling behind 4-1 to a team that it is flying up the list of most obnoxious opponents on the Chicago schedule. It was a story that was so damn frustrating because it’s happened so many damn times in the last three months that make up the 2021 NHL season.

I’ll admit it: I — like many of you, probably — had given up on the game. After a goal in the final second of the middle period and another in the opening minute of the third, my attention had turned to the late dinner I was cooking. I heard the call of the Blackhawks second goal of the game from the kitchen. I sat back down as the third went into the net and had barely settled in before a fourth was tallied. And after the Hawks tied the game, I was committed to a spot in front of the TV that wasn’t going to be abandoned until the game’s end.

This is why we watch sports, though.

A random Wednesday night game that’s just one of 56 and yet, for roughly 30 or 45 minutes, the rest of the world was dead to me. After coming back to the game I wasn’t going to leave it again and my focus never strayed from the screen. Suddenly every shot on goal resulted in a gasp and every scoring chance led to a few more heartbeats missed. It was as immersive, as all-encompassing as a Stanley Cup Playoff game can be. And, yeah, it made that wasted four-minute power play feel like the slowest, deepest papercut ever inflicted.

The 3-on-3 overtime brought its own stressors before Brandon Hagel scored the winner and there I was, leaping off the couch while punching the empty air above me in celebration. And even though I was the only person in that room doing that thing, I have zero doubts that there were hundreds — and maybe even thousands — doing the same damn thing with me in that moment.

And that’s the beauty of being a sports fan, isn’t it?

We’re all taking in these games in our individual or shared settings, but the reactions are collective. Although we’re not in the same physical space, we’re experiencing these emotional ups-and-downs together in real time. And it’s even more true in this age of social distancing when we’re can’t gather in houses or bars or restaurants watching these games with friends or family or complete strangers, although those strangers don’t feel as foreign because they’re cheering for the same pieces of fabric as we are.

It’s also why I’ve always found myself drawn to Twitter whenever moments like Wednesday night unfold just to see the never-ending string of GIFs and exclamation points and profanities and HAGEL!!!! tweets that come pouring out — it’s a reaffirmation that these feelings are not exclusive to ourselves.

We haven’t had a ton of moments like that with the 2021 version of the Blackhawks. It’s probably some regression to the mean after enjoying so many of them in the front half of the prior decade.

For one night, though, it was pretty cool to have all of that again: a fervent reminder of why you care so damn much about these games in the first place.