All good things must come to an end. The Chicago Blackhawks experienced that firsthand this October, when their longtime division rival, the Detroit Red Wings, made their long-anticipated move to the Eastern Conference in the latest realignment.
From a traditional standpoint, it’s a rivalry that will be missed. It’s supplied some great hockey through the years, and the Blackhawks couldn’t have closed out the rivalry any better than they did in the Western Conference semifinals in May. But with one rival leaving, another one takes its place. And that new division rival certainly looks like the St. Louis Blues.
Obviously the Blackhawks and Blues have had their share of tussles, and the Blues are hardly a new foe. But now, given the somewhat changed landscape of the new Central Division, it looks like the Blues are the Blackhawks’ new Wings.
“I guess you could say that,” Brandon Saad said. “They’re a good team, they’re in the same division. We’re always gong to be competing and emotions always get high out there, especially with St. Louis. It’s a physical team and they play that way at home especially. We’re looking for good games, and they’re definitely going to be competitive.”
Defenseman Nick Leddy said, “ever since I’ve been here, it’s been a pretty good, intense game. (St. Louis) is definitely a good rival. We’re not playing Detroit as much, which will still be special when they do play them. But as is, this is probably our closest rival.”
Patrick Kane agreed to a point. “These are games to get up for, especially on the road vs. St. Louis. “We want to make sure we’re playing a playoff-type game. They have a physical side to them. But as far as the rivalry, that comes more from the fans’ standpoint.”
Indeed, it seems rivalries are more about the spectators in the seats more than the players. Fans need someone to hate, someone to seethe over, and the anti-Detroit chants just won’t be resonating from the United Center as much as they used to. So enter the Blues. For the players, however, Kane said the biggest rival remains Vancouver, a nasty matchup that was built on angst-laden postseason games more than any divisional setup.
Whether or not St. Louis is the new team the Blackhawks love to hate, at least to the levels of Detroit, remains to be seen. There’s always going to be a tinge of rancor between the two clubs, given the physical games that usually erupt. But there’s no doubt: considering it’s in the division and how big those points loom and considering the Blues want what the Blackhawks have, there’ll be plenty of feeling.
“It’s definitely a rivalry. You feel it in the building, you feel it in the stands,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Going into big games, the implications of those two points can be a difference. You have to be read to play hard game; there are no easy shifts.
Briefly. Sheldon Brookbank will be in the lineup tonight against the Blues. Backup goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin will get one of the back-to-back starts this weekend, Quenneville said.
- Tracey Myers, CSN Chicago