The after-party roared on until well after dawn for the victorious Chicago Blackhawks and some die-hard fans.
Hours after returning from their 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins, the team gave awed fans a close-up look at the gleaming Stanley Cup on Tuesday, hauling their prize around to bars and restaurants around the city for the second time in four seasons.
Just like in 2010, their first stop was at Harry Caray's in suburban Rosemont, where more than a thousand fans were waiting before sunrise in hopes the team would again use the Italian steakhouse to kick off their party. Players took turns lifting the trophy above their heads as fans went wild, still barely able to fathom the two third-period goals just 17 seconds apart that gave the Hawks the win.
"I was in shock. ... I jumped up so high that I stubbed my toe," Frank Espinoza told WBBM radio at Harry Caray's, recalling the stunning pair of goals. "I didn't realize it until the game was over; I felt a pain in my toe afterwards."
The team and their families wound their way through Chicago in a convoy of limos and buses under police escort and trailed by TV news helicopters. At their second stop, The Scout bar in the South Loop area of downtown, team members greeted cheering fans outside with high-fives before filing into the bar. Mayor Rahm Emanuel even showed up to share in the fun, WBBM reported.
Emanuel released a statement congratulating the team on a "hard-fought victory" and offering best wishes to the people of Boston.
Earlier, the team was greeted on the tarmac at O'Hare International Airport with a water cannon salute from about a dozen fire trucks and even more police cars — all with their lights flashing.
Minutes before the chartered Boeing 737 from Boston touched down at 4:05 a.m., lightning danced across the sky as the edge of a windy storm front passed through.
Veteran forward Michal Handzus, who skated with significant injuries, was the first player to emerge from the aircraft, hoisting the Cup above his head with both hands and shaking it several times. Guests, police officers and firemen cheered at the bottom of the stairs.
Players, coaches and team officials mingled with the crowd for about 10 minutes before heading for the city to continue the party at locations that were kept secret until the team showed up.
"This is completely amazing," said Willis Morgan, a 24-year-old electrical engineer, soaking up the scene of celebration at Harry Caray's.
"I watched the game at work on my phone and then we came right over," he told the Daily Herald newspaper of Arlington Heights. "Having the Stanley Cup back in Chicago is unbelievable."
A parade for the team was planned for Friday morning.
The Blackhawks fifth Cup in their 87-year history capped an amazing run through a lockout-shortened season that didn't start until mid-January.