Expect less smiling after puck drop.
Through 15 games, the Chicago Blackhawks have been just shy of perfect. The Hawks are 12-0-3 heading into Tuesday night, one game shy of the NHL record for most games without a regulation loss to open a season.
Jonathan Toews would have you believe the win streak doesn't really matter. "What's important to us is getting home-ice advantage, making the playoffs," he said in advance of the game. "Those are our goals. Once you get there, the real season starts. When you get to that point, no one really cares or remembers those streaks at the start of the season."
Sure. But something tells me Chicago will care and remember if the team that ends this streak is the Vancouver Canucks, a team for whom they don't much care. In a delightful coincidence, it's Chicago's biggest rival standing between them and a share of NHL history.
[Y! Sports Radio: Nick Cotsonika assesses the first month of the NHL season]
“This is a great rivalry and has been since the first playoff series,” Patrick Kane said. “It just seems to get better every year. I don’t know if players hate players, but when you get on the ice it’s always a big rivalry.
Some, myself included, would argue it's hockey's biggest right now. With three consecutive postseason appearances prior to last year, the second and third propelling the victor to Stanley Cup Final appearances, they've had plenty of time to let their hatred for one another fester.
But their rivalry goes beyond the postseason. Three years ago, in a regular-season game, they gave us one of the most entertaining brawls of the post-lockout era. Kevin Bieksa and Ben Eager practically strip-fought. Alex Burrows tried to snatch Duncan Keith's weave right off his head. Shane O'Brien got slewfooted by an official, it was that crazy.
And last year, in the regular season, the Canucks' lost Daniel Sedin to a Duncan Keith elbow. Keith received a 5-game Shanaban for the foul.
Bearing that -- and everything else -- in mind, the Canucks would like nothing more than to spoil the Blackhawks' party, especially in their own building. From the Vancouver Sun:
“Chicago is obviously one of our biggest rivals so to beat them anytime feels good,” Canuck alternate captain Kevin Bieksa said Monday before the team flew to the Windy City. “It would be extra special to put an end to their streak.
[...] If the Canucks manage to halt the 'Hawks, it would be another feather in their cap. Last season, they went into Detroit with the Red Wings on an NHL record 23-game home-ice win streak and edged the Wings 4-3 in a shootout.
The Canucks looked downright giddy to end Detroit's streak. (Roberto Luongo's "Thank you, goodnight" to the Detroit fans was especially trollish.) And that was Detroit, a team with whom the Canucks have little history. Chicago, on the other hand? Hell, the Canucks want this so bad they actually cheered for the Blackhawks to win versus LA just so they'd get a chance to ruin this record.
“Personally, I was pretty happy that they won against L.A. so we'd get the chance to go in there and, hopefully, beat them in regulation,” Burrows said.
The Canucks have a few things going for them. Ryan Kesler will be playing his third game since stepping back into the lineup, and David Booth will be making his season debut after suffering a groin injury in the abbreviated training camp. Plus, they were responsible for one of Chicago's three overtime losses, a 2-1 triumph on February 1 that came via shootout.
What does Chicago have going for them? Well, they haven't lost a regulation game all season, so... everything.
What can we expect Tuesday night?
“It’s going to be loud, something is going to happen and we’re going to make sure we focus,” Alex Burrows told the Province Monday.
Yes. Something is going to happen.
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