March Madness is in full swing, and for fans of our beloved Chicago Blackhawks, March has certainly been pretty maddening. Last Sunday the Hawks failed to grab two much needed points against the Central Division-last place Nashville Predators in a 0-2 shutout loss; especially infuriating after back-to-back wins.
Well, the Blackhawks are playing another lowly Central Division team tonight, the Dallas Stars, at the Madhouse on Madison with more than just two points on the line. If the Hawks get the W, and the Phoenix Coyotes lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins, they’ll clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the sixth year in a row.
The Stars are currently on the outside looking in for a wildcard spot in the Western Conference, being one point behind the Coyotes. So needless to say, both teams have something on the line tonight which should make for a heated match-up, and given the history between these two teams as of this season this should come as no surprise.
The Dallas Stars were one of the newcomers to the Central Division post the NHL realignment this season. Since their arrival, the Hawks have gone 3-1-0 against the Stars, with two of those wins being pretty decisive for the Blackhawks, at 5-2 and 6-2.
However it’s the 4-3 loss the Hawks suffered on their home ice to the Stars that remains the most prominent in the minds of Blackhawks fans when it comes to this season’s series between these two Central Division teams. It was another case of a goalie standing on his head in the face of a relentless Blackhawks offensive assault: Kari Lehtonen tallied 50 saves to deny the Hawks a victory.
It was the game winning goal however that provoked the most ire at the United Center. Antoine Roussel scored on a penalty shot 3:01 into the third period to break a 3-3 tie, and celebrated by taunting the home crowd. Such an act of defiant disrespect has not been forgotten by the Blackhawks’ faithful and many analysts have speculated that this tension will boil over into a budding rivalry in the new Central Division.
Roussel’s classlessness is certainly the stuff of rivalries, but one thing I think we should remember is that there are different kinds of rivalries. Teams that play each other five times in one season are certainly going to have intimate knowledge of one another that can easily become intimate hatred, but there are more factors at play when it comes to the birth of a rivalry.
We all know that traditional rivalries in the NHL usually spring from geographic proximity and/or multiple playoff encounters. However there is another type of rivalry in the NHL that lacks the usual characteristic. You can liken it to a David and Goliath-type relationship of sorts. This is the kind of rivalry that will likely play out between Chicago and Dallas over the next few years. Let me break it down:
First of all, you need to understand that the Dallas Stars are in a transition period. Before the start of the season, former Assistant GM of the Detroit Red Wings Jim Nill was made Dallas’ GM and he cleaned house with the coaching staff to make Lindy Ruff the new head coach. Nill proceeded to purge the roster of older players in favor of younger and quicker players that could flourish in Ruff’s aggressive gameplay strategy.
The result has been a ruddy, inexperienced team with a whole lot to prove, and while the Stars have shown they can’t consistently go toe-to-toe with top tier teams like the Blackhawks, this isn’t the expectation for obvious reasons. However, when the Stars do notch a win against one of the better teams in the league, it’s a big deal for the franchise. And well, the Stars have done just that this season, stealing wins here and there against the St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks, and the Pittsburgh Penguins, to name a few. These types of victories are more important to a franchise like the Stars than the two points, because it means that while they may not have all the pieces now, they system and culture they have in place is working, giving them a proven foundation to build upon.
Being the defending Stanley Cup Champions this season, and likely the gatekeeper to the Stanley Cup Finals for the Western Conference for many seasons to come, the Chicago Blackhawks are an especially important barometer for the Dallas Stars. While not many people will remember when the Hawks beat the Stars, the Stars will certainly not let the Hawks forget when they lose. This mentality will be the essence of the Hawks-Stars rivalry over the next several years. A victory against the Hawks will be so weighted for the Stars they’ll come out of the gates with gusto uncharacteristic of a regular season game. If the Hawks aren’t ready to counter this energy, they’ll have a win stolen from them.
While the Stars haven’t given the Blackhawks much trouble this season, they certainly have the potential of becoming a much more threatening team, much in the same vein as the Colorado Avalanche the past couple seasons. The Blackhawks need to realize they’re always going to have a target on their back when it comes to young upstart squads like the Stars, and above all, figure out how to keep them in their place.
Let’s hope tonight the Blackhawks can yet again make that point.
FOR THE DAGGER!
Tags: Chicago Blackhawks