A lot has changed since last Wings series

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp can remember a time when playing the Detroit Red Wings was an unpleasant experience.

Sharp joined the Blackhawks in 2005 and endured loss after loss to the Red Wings. The Blackhawks fell to the Red Wings 11 times in Sharp's first two years with the team.

"For a lot of years, the Wings beat up on us," Sharp said leading into Wednesday's Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series. "I was here in 2005, and it wasn't fun playing that team. I feel like we've grown over the years. We've had some good games against each other."

"Grown" was the exact term Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock also used for the rise of the Blackhawks over the last eight years. Babcock's first season as Detroit's coach also happened to be 2005, so he's witnessed closely how the Blackhawks have gone from being a consistent loser to building into a consistent winner.

"The reality is they're good players, they've grown up," Babcock said. "If you do a good job when you're a bad team, and you draft really well, you can ride that for probably 8-10 years. It's just you got to be careful to be bad enough long enough, so you get good enough.

"You may laugh at that, and your fans don't want to hear that, but if you get good too fast, you're never going to be good enough. If you stay bad enough long enough in the new world, you have a chance to be really good. That's what they did."

Babcock also complimented Blackhawks management on how the team was reassembled be a contender again after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010.

"When the Hawks did it on their recycle, they did a real good job of trading and acquiring more assets and allowing themselves to redo again to be in a good position, so good for them," Babcock said.

The Blackhawks have had the Red Wings' number in recent seasons -- Chicago is riding a seven-game winning streak -- but the Red Wings have taken care of business when it has mattered most in their recent history against the Blackhawks. Detroit knocked off Chicago in five games in the 2009 Western Conference final. It's the only time they've matched up in the playoffs this century.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville believes the 2009 experience against the Red Wings made the Blackhawks a better team.

"I think winning the Cup you got to take on the best comers," Quenneville said. "I think we had a good chance five years ago. It's amazing how long ago that was. We didn't face them since then. I don't know if the series was as dominating as 4-1 against us. I thought it was a good learning curve for us. Young team learning from one of the teams that knows how to win, defending Cup champs. I think there's an education there from them.

"Now it's a whole new challenge. They're playoff tested. They know how to play. They know how to compete. They know what's ahead of them. But I think we've learned as well."