Budding Hawks-Canucks Rivalry To Make An Encore
Tuesday, 04.27.2010 / 12:53 PM / Features
Moments after his team had advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was asked about the Blackhawks' next opponent, the Vancouver Canucks.
After playing what could almost be deemed a gentlemanly series against Nashville, with each coach praising the other in postgame conferences and off-day media sessions, and not a single fighting major recorded, the expectation for the re-match of last year's conference semifinal meeting betweens these teams is expected to follow a grittier path, to say the least.
"I'm sure it won't take long to rekindle the animosity," Quenneville said. "The rivalries are more intense, but in the playoffs there's a lot more focus and retaliation won't work. We have to be at our best and work."
One difference in the series will be that Chicago, as the West's No. 2 seed, will host it. Last year the Blackhawks had four more points than Vancouver during the regular season, but as the Northwest Division champion, Vancouver hosted.
The teams split the first two games, with Vancouver winning Game 3 at home -- the identical situation to Chicago's first-round series with Nashville. As in their series with the Predators, the Hawks denied Vancouver a chance to go up 3-1 on home ice, as Andrew Ladd scored at 2:52 of overtime to earn a 2-1 victory -- a series-changing goal.
And just as in their Nashville series, Chicago closed out the series by winning the next two to eliminate Vancouver in six games.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was asked Monday night if he could see the drama "taking off" in the next round -- especially with the Canadian media and the public's near-insatiable appetite for news at this time of year surrounding their national sport.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "We can use the experience we had last year playing two Canadian teams in the two first rounds (they played Calgary in the first round last year). Someone breaks their fingernail and it becomes a story. There's so much going on, so much being said sometimes, you know, even players commenting on each other.
"As a team we're going to focus on our game and that's really what matters -- what we say and do in this locker room. It's the attitude that we're going to have because we're not going to worry about all the stuff that's being said outside the locker room because we can't control it."
Many are sure to point out how top players on both sides played with and against each other in the gold-medal game in the Olympics, which was played in the same building as some of this series' games will be, General Motors Place.
Vancouver center Ryan Kesler and Chicago right wing Patrick Kane played together on the U.S. team, while Toews and fellow Hawks Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook played in front of Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo for the host Canadians. And for Slovakia, good friends Pavol Demitra (Vancouver) and Marian Hossa (Chicago) have been linemates in the past. Chicago's Tomas Kopecky also played for Slovakia.
Yet surely high on the list of story lines will be those that raise the ire of both teams, like the duel between Kesler and Ladd. Kesler claims that in last year's playoffs, Ladd cross-checked him in the face when he wasn't looking and broke his nose.
In January, the two fought during a regular-season meeting. After the game, Kesler called Ladd "a coward."
"The whole thing with Kesler and Ladder -- I'm sure you guys will uncover stuff like that anyway," Toews said. "We're looking forward to it. It's going to be fun and that's what makes it so competitive and so exciting when you are out there on the ice."
With that kind of animosity -- not to mention both teams' high skill level -- the series should be a treat for fans.
Vancouver and Chicago ranked second and third, respectively, in the NHL this season in scoring, and while Chicago muddled through against tight-checking Nashville, the Canucks filled the net in getting past the Los Angeles Kings in six games.
Mikael Samuelsson leads all playoff scorers with 7 goals and Daniel Sedin's 10 points have him tied for third. After his team was eliminated by Vancouver in the first round, Los Angeles coach Terry Murray said the Kings lost because they could not slow down Sedin and his twin brother, Henrik.
"Two teams that have had some entertaining games and some feisty games," said Chicago's Patrick Sharp of playing Vancouver. "We'll see what happens in this series but we have a lot of respect for what they can do. They've been atop the conference for a few years now and they're always difficult games when we play them, so it's tough to predict what's going to happen, but I know it's going to be a fun series."
Author: John Manasso | NHL.com Correspondent