After a much maligned start to 2014, this past weekend our beloved Chicago Blackhawks have stood and delivered against their last two formidable opponents; beating the NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks 4-2 and the 2nd best Eastern Conference team not to mention last year’s Eastern Conference champion, the Boston Bruins. Yes these two games weren’t that meaningful from a statistical standpoint: it’s the dog days of the NHL season, the Hawks are still comfortably close to the top of the NHL standings and there’s still almost two cumulative months before the playoffs.
Yet these past two W’s carried tremendous morale points the Hawks certainly needed to snap their “slump.” A slump by Blackhawks fans’ standards anyway. Side note: before anyone scrutinizes Hawks fans for being overly critical that their Stanley Cup winning team hasn’t been winning a handful of games they should have been as of late, Blackhawks faithful who suffered through the William “Dollar Bill” Wirtz years certainly deserve to keep their standards high, nuff said!
But I digress…the much needed and much welcomed Blackhawks resurgence is entering the final phase of January’s redemption trifecta tonight with the Hawks traveling to Motown to take on their long-time rival Detroit Red Wings.
As we all know, the Blackhawks-Red Wings rivalry is one of the longest in sports history and 2nd longest in the NHL in terms of games played against each other (fellow Original Sixers the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens have played each other the most). In over 800 regular season contests, the Red Wings currently hold the bragging rights with a 363-278-84 record against the Hawks. However, the Blackhawks historically have gotten the better of the Wings in the 16 post season meetings between the two franchises, boasting a 43-38 record.
This is the first meeting between the Blackhawks and the Red Wings since the Wings were moved to the Eastern Conference, or should I say back to the Eastern Conference. That’s, right – fun fact: this isn’t the first time these rivals have played each other from different conferences. With the influx of new NHL teams in the late 1960’s, in the 1970-1971 season the Blackhawks were moved to the Western Conference while the Red Wings remained in the Eastern Conference. The teams wouldn’t reunite until the Red Wings were moved to the then Norris Division in 1981 (later renamed the Central Division in 1993).
Since their relocation to the East this season however, the Red Wings haven’t exactly been maintaining their legacy in hockey, currently sitting at 3rd in the Wild Card race in the Eastern Conference. Had they stayed in the Western Conference, they’d ironically be even further out of the conversation.
However, given their storied history this matchup will be tough for the Blackhawks; the Red Wings have long been under the Hawks skin (that’s why they’re a rival) and Wings’ head coach Mike Babcock (recently named head coach for Canada’s Olympic hockey team) has mastered the blueprint for beating the Hawks, and is pretty successful at it even when he doesn’t have all the tools to do so, which is going to be important this evening considering that the age of Red Wings’ roster seems to be catching up with them. Red Wing veterans Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Ericsson, Stephen Weiss, Joakim Andersson, and Johan Franzen are all sidelined with injuries. Not to mention Wings starting and US Olympic hockey team goalie Jimmy Howard left the Red Wings’ 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues mid-game Monday night with a lower body injury and is out for at least a week.
Nevertheless, expect the Wings to employ the same tactic they did during the 2013 post-season series against the Hawks that nearly won the day: physical physicality. The Wings will likely come out harassing Hawks’ stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and red hot Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa by playing the body over the puck and hoping for bad penalties so they can take advantage of the Hawks’ lackluster penalty kill (even though it’s fared somewhat better recently). The Blackhawks have either got to power through the onslaught of induced frustration or push back against any instigators because needless to say they don’t have seven attempts to figure out how to beat the Wings this time around and a win against a historic rival is a guaranteed camaraderie booster for any sports franchise; a boost that would be a splendid feather in the war bonnet following such a successful weekend.
So let’s remind the Red Wings they’re no longer welcome in the Western Conference – let’s go Hawks!
FOR THE DAGGER!