Tonight, two Original Six rivals battle for the final time as division/conference foes in a game 7 matchup for the ages to determine who will face the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals.
What a fitting end to one of the greatest rivalries in the NHL.
Thanks to the Atlanta Thrashers relocating in 2012 to Winnipeg and the revival of the Jets franchise, conference realignment will take place next season, and the Red Wings will finally get what they want – a move to the Eastern Conference. While this means that the Wings will no longer have to travel west frequently for match-ups out of their time zone, it will put a halt on one of the NHL’s fiercest and greatest rivalries. This will presumably be the final postseason game between the Hawks and Wings, barring an epic clash in a future Stanley Cup final.
The Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings have played more regular season games than any two franchises in history – only the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins have played more head-to-head contests overall. The Red Wings once went 40+ years without a championship, but since 1997, they have won four Stanley Cups. With 11 championships in total, they are the second-most successful team in the NHL. As dominant as they have been in recent years, including making the postseason in 23 consecutive seasons, the Blackhawks have revived their franchise and fan base since the death of greedy owner Bill Wirtz in 2007. With a new front office committed to winning, key free agent signings, the growth of home-grown talent in Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith, and two star draft picks in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the Hawks have become one of the most popular franchises in hockey, erasing a 49-year drought and winning the Stanley Cup in 2010.
They’ve met in 15 postseason series before this season, with Chicago holding an 8-7 advantage. Twice before has there been a Game 7 between the Hawks and Wings – both during the Original Six era, when the winner went to the Stanley Cup Finals. The teams were once owned by James Norris, whose name not only bears the trophy awarded to the league’s top defenseman, but was once the name of the legendary division these two teams once shared. Many players have donned both iconic sweaters, to much success. Chicagoan Chris Chelios was a beloved captain in the 1990s for the Blackhawks before accepting a trade to the rival Red Wings and winning two Stanley Cups. After losing in the Stanley Cup Finals to Detroit as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Marian Hossa traded his black for red and white and signed with Detroit for the 2008-09 season, only to lose in the Finals to his former team. That offseason, he signed with the Blackhawks, and won the Stanley Cup in 2010.
It’s your typical Chicago-Detroit rivalry. Two cities, separated by 283 miles, with two rabid fan bases, who flood the opposing arena with pride and passion for their hockey team. Chants of “Detroit Sucks” roared inside the old Chicago Stadium and have since found its way to the new Madhouse on Madison across the street. Meanwhile, octopuses have been flung onto the ice at the Joe in Detroit, as it was in The Old Red Barn. As heated of a rivalry as it is for the players, it’s just as much, if not more, of a rivalry to its great fans.
This season has been, in essence, The Chicago Blackhawks Show. In a shortened 48-game season due to the player lockout, the Hawks went the first half of the season without a loss in regulation. The record of 21-0-3 was one that fans all over the NHL could be captivated with, and caught the eye of the similar-streaking Miami Heat. Chicago cruised through the regular season and finished with the best record in the league and won the Presidents Trophy. Detroit, on the other hand, had to fight to keep their playoff hopes alive. After the retirement of defenseman Niklas Lidstrom, the Red Wings struggled, but were able to win key games down the stretch to earn 57 points and the 7th seed in the playoffs.
The Blackhawks went against an underachieving 8th seed in the Minnesota Wild in the 1st round, and caught a huge break when goalie Niklas Backstrom went down with an injury in game one. After a thrilling overtime win in game one, the Hawks seemed to be in cruise control all series, defeating the Wild in 5. Despite the play of key players in Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, as well as role players like Bryan Bickell stepping up, Chicago failed to get a goal from their two stars – Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Detroit had a much tougher task in the 2nd seeded Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks and Wings traded the first 6 games of the season. 4 of those games went into overtime, with Detroit winning 3 of them. Then in Game 7, the Ducks were anything but mighty as the Red Wings got the stops they needed from Jimmy Howard and advanced to the conference semifinals.
It was as if it was scripted. The final playoff matchup for the foreseeable future between the Hawks and Wings. A dominant young club going up against a team of grizzled veterans. Two future hall-of-fame coaches in Joel Quennville and Mike Babcock, both the leaders in career postseason wins. Despite the great play of the Blackhawks, it was a foregone conclusion that this would be no easy series. The Hawks did sweep the Wings in the regular season 4-0, but 3 of those games went into overtime. Detroit was a squad filled with playoff experience, and although Chicago has had their playoff success, they knew Detroit wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Game 1 wouldn’t be decided until the 3rd period, when Johnny Oduya broke a tie game to rev up the United Center and charge the Blackhawks to a 4-1 win. Game 2, however, was where the tide turned. After Patrick Kane got his first goal of the season in the 1st period, it seemed as if the Hawks were easing their way towards a series victory. However, the Red Wings found their legs, and dominated the 2nd and 3rd periods en route to a 4-1 victory. Back at the Joe, it got no easier for Chicago as the Wings took a 2-0 lead going into the 3rd period. Patrick Kane earned another goal in the 3rd, but after what appeared to be a game-tying goal by Andrew Shaw was nulled due to goalie interference (which replay shows was a bad call), the Wings came back and put the game away for a 3-1 win. Game 4 was much of the same. Jonathan Toews, who had been frustrated by Red Wings centers Henrik Zetterburg and Pavel Datsyuk for 3 games straight, picked up 3 consecutive penalties, as his frustration finally boiled over. A Detroit 2-0 shutout victory put the Hawks on edge, and down 1-3.
With the Hawks playing at their worst, not many gave Chicago a chance to battle back into this series. Detroit was playing as if they were the dominant team all regular season, and the Blackhawks, for the first time all season, faced adversity. However, game 5 in the United Center gave the Hawks hope. In a 1-1 tie in the 2nd period, Andrew Shaw got it past Jimmy Howard to give the Hawks the lead. Then, finally, Jonathan Toews, who had been harassed all series by Zetterburg and Datsyuk, finally found the back of the net, putting it off of Howard’s helmet and into the back of the net. The Hawks won 4-1, and although there was still 2 more games to win, the Hawks had their swagger back.
That swagger was almost lost in game 6. After Marian Hossa found the net early in the 1st period, goalie Corey Crawford let in two Wings goals, the second a knuckler off the stick of Joakim Andersson. Down 2-1 going into the 3rd, the Hawks needed a glimmer of hope. They earned it less than a minute into the period with a goal from Michal Handzus. Then, 5 minutes later, Hossa and Toews were able to find linemate Bryan Bickell for the go-ahead goal. Not too long later, Michael Frolik knocked in a beautiful backhanded wrister on a penalty shot for the game-winning goal. Chicago won 4-3 and forced what seemed to be the unthinkable following game 4 – a game 7 back in Chicago.
So it comes down to 60 minutes of hockey. A game 7 on West Madison Street in Chicago. The revived franchise against the proven veterans. A matchup for the ages. A rivalry that needs a fitting end to an illustrious chapter. This isn’t the end to the Blackhawks/Red Wings rivalry tonight. The teams will meet twice a year and could face each other in a Stanley Cup final in the near future. This is, however, the culmination of a decorated period between the two teams. Blackhawks. Red Wings. There can only be one.
Because it’s the Cup.
Dictated. Not Read.