Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and a rivalry (hopefully) reborn

NBC Sports Network touts its Wednesday night matchup as “Rivalry Night.” Sometimes this leads to unintentionally hilarious reaches – oh, the storied rivalry of the Sabres and Red Wings last week! – and sometimes it puts the spotlight on the kind of rivalry that an NHL fan makes time to watch.

The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues were that rivalry about 20 years ago, when they met in the playoffs five times from 1988-93 and featured names like Hull, Oates, Belfour, Savard and then Chelios. The wars would rage, earning names like the “St. Patrick’s Day Massacre.”

As Jeremy Roenick told the Post-Dispatch earlier this year:

“I don’t know if it’s because of the closeness or what, but Chicago-St. Louis was the toughest, grittiest of any of them,” Roenick said. “It was a war, especially in the old buildings. The Arena was a lot like Chicago Stadium. It was a tough place to play.

“Those buildings had their own character, their own smell, their own sounds. I could close my eyes and hear that organ play in St. Louis and I knew where I was.”

But for years after, the Blues were never in the same class of rival for the Hawks as the Detroit Red Wings. Nor did they bring out the hatred quite like the Vancouver Canucks did. The Blues were always just … there. Intense games that meant something to fans old enough to remember the chaos these meetings used to produce, but even exactly reaching those heights.

Which brings us back to Rivalry Night, when the Blackhawks and Blues meet for the first time this season and for the first time since the Detroit Red Wings packed up and moved East. Mark Lazarus of the Sun-Times sees the timing right for this conflict to reignite:

Traditional rivals who always have taken a back seat to the Red Wings, the Blues are poised to become the Hawks’ new nemeses for years to come. They’re geographically close but stylistically far apart — the big, bruising Blues against the skilled, offensive Hawks. And with divisional playoffs (the first two rounds of the postseason will be confined within the divisions, with the potential exception of a wild-card team being moved from one division to the other to even out the brackets), they’re likely to see each other in the spring — where rivalries truly are created — more often than not for the foreseeable future.

They may not have to wait until the playoffs to establish this rivalry again. As Ken Hitchcock noted to the Post Dispatch:

“I think what creates the rivalry is they have the Cup and everybody wants a piece of it,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They’re a measuring stick for everybody that plays them…

“You want information for your team. As a coach, the quicker you can get information, the more it helps. Sometimes it hurts getting lulled into a sense of security. We haven’t played somebody that’s won before.”

With all due respect to the upstart Avs – which is to say, ‘Please, Mr. Roy, don’t punch me in the face for this’ – the Central Division is a two-horse race between the reigning champs and the Blues, a darling pick for the Cup this season.

Without the Wings as a measuring stick, these storied rivals are refocused on each other. An intense regular-season series dotted with brutality -- paging Mr. Backes, Mr. David Backes -- and in which every game is a four-point swing for the division crown, is just what they need.

And, ultimately, a playoff war between the two is what the West wants, both its fans and its teams.