CHICAGO -- If the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild didn’t provide enough storylines for you in the opening round of the playoffs, don’t worry, Round 2 will have plenty. The Hawks don’t know yet whether they’ll be playing the San Jose Sharks or Detroit Red Wings -- that will be determined in the coming days -- but in either case, the matchup will be a juicy one.
As much as the Red Wings and Hawks have a storied rivalry, the better series might be with the Sharks. Consider this: It’ll be the first time in the postseason the Hawks oppose players who helped them win a Stanley Cup in 2010, including goaltender Antti Niemi. Niemi and Corey Crawford were teammates in the minors, but Niemi left the organization in a controversial salary dispute after winning the Cup. And now he could face his former team in a win-or-go-home scenario. The talkative Adam Burish also plays for San Jose, and although injured, he said in a text Thursday night that he’s going to do “everything I can to get back” for the potential series.
But the storylines don’t end there. Captains Jonathan Toews and “Jumbo” Joe Thornton have a budding rivalry. Although friendly through their experience in the Olympics in 2010, they haven’t been the best of friends on the ice since. Thornton was responsible for a concussion Toews received in 2012 that caused him to miss the final 21 regular-season games. Then Toews and Thornton dropped the gloves in a game earlier this season.
“They have a great team over there,” Patrick Sharp said. “Since I’ve been in Chicago, it seems like it’s been a hard-fought game. Detroit, the same thing. It’s going to be a tough second round.”
Adding another layer to the potential drama is the Sharks' trade this season for notorious bad boy winger Raffi Torres. Playing for the Phoenix Coyotes last season, Torres was suspended after a vicious -- and illegal -- hit on Marian Hossa that knocked him out of the playoffs. Torres also has a history with Brent Seabrook after a dirty hit laid on him in the 2011 playoffs when Torres played for the Vancouver Canucks.
And don’t forget the in-season trade the two teams made as the Hawks acquired Michal Handzus from San Jose earlier this year.
A matchup with Detroit isn’t void of storylines, either. Not when the two teams have played 798 total games against each other, including 15 previous postseason matchups. Most recently, the Wings knocked the Hawks out of the playoffs in 2009 en route to the Stanley Cup finals. And this is the last season the two teams will be in the same division, as next season's realignment will separate them for the first time in the history of the league.
“Without a doubt, it’s going to get tougher and tougher,” Toews said. “So we have to know that, and we’ll talk about it before we go into the next series.”
Either opponent would have plenty of motivation, as the Hawks swept the season series from each, going a perfect 7-0. If Anaheim wins its series over Detroit -- the Ducks are up 3-2 with Game 6 on Friday -- the Hawks take on the Sharks. If Detroit comes back to win, it’ll be the Hawks and Wings in Round 2. Either way, the conference semifinals won’t lack for drama.