CHICAGO -- They probably arrived at O’Hare airport at nearly the same time late Friday night/early Saturday morning. One, the Chicago Blackhawks, came from Tampa Bay after a 5-4 overtime loss. The other, the Vancouver Canucks, arrived from St. Louis after a 3-2 defeat.
If they passed each other in the middle of the night, worn out from back-to-back games and late arrivals, an image is conjured of two teams exchanging steely glares. Think Dave Bolland and Henrik Sedin or Jonathan Toews and Ryan Kesler. Maybe Dan Carcillo and Maxim Lapierre locked eyes as they prepare to undoubtedly add to the one of the great modern rivalries in the NHL.
The Hawks and Canucks will begin another season series -- more than likely of nastiness --- Sunday night at the United Center. Since the beginning of 2008-2009 they’ve played 31 games, including three postseason series. The Hawks have won 16, the Canucks 15.
But rivalries aren’t just about final scores, they’re about moments. And these two teams have had their share. You decide which is the most memorable:
There was Alex Burrows pulling Duncan Keith’s hair in 2008-2009 or maybe it was Adam Burish and Shane O’Brien exchanging verbal jabs in between games in the 2010 playoffs. The most recent incident saw Raffi Torres delivering a vicious head shot to Brent Seabrook, which didn’t result in any additional punishment, much to the dismay of one fan base. There are many more including several infamous moments between Roberto Luongo and Dustin Byfuglien.
Some of those names have moved on but the rivalry remains.
“The rivalry is definitely in place,” Joel Quenneville stated Friday. “When you play them three years in a row in the playoffs there’s something going on there. I’m sure it will make for a first exciting game of the season [series.]”
As far as not liking the Canucks?
“When you play them three years in a row I think we have a little more ammo than most teams,” Quenneville quipped.
In the spotlight, as usual, will be Bolland and his wingers, who will once again get the assignment of checking the Sedin twins. Bolland, coming off arguably his worst game of the season in Tampa Bay (minus-3), has a knack for getting under the skin of the league’s top players, especially the Sedins. Never did his value show more than when he missed the opening three games of playoff series’ No. 3 last spring.
The Hawks were down three games to none, on the verge of an embarrassing opening-round exit via sweep. Many thought there would be no reason for Bolland to return from a nasty concussion suffered in March. Why bother, people thought? He proved his worth by returning and sparking the Hawks to a near historic comeback. Bolland was that good.
On defense there will likely be a new “player” in the quest to stop the Sedins. Unless Quenneville changes his pairings Niklas Hjalmarsson will be on the ice almost exclusively against the Canucks' top line. His current partner Brent Seabrook has done it many times before, but usually with Duncan Keith. This will be one game Hjalmarsson won’t be criticized for providing no offense. If he’s still on zero points for the season but the Sedins don’t improve their numbers either, Sunday is a win for the Hawks.
And then there are the goalies. Two different species if you ask fans. One has proven to be unflappable, nearly stealing Game 7 in Vancouver last year. It was a coming-out party for Corey Crawford and no one knew for sure he could handle it.
The other is Luongo.
Like the rivalry itself there isn’t much new to write about the embattled Canucks goaltender. The fact that he and his team are off to a slow start isn’t the news. Afterall, they made it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, so some sort of hangover was expected. But he didn’t win the cup and he hasn’t outplayed a Hawks goaltender yet in a playoff series. Even in defeat Crawford garnered more praise than Luongo.
It’s not official who Canucks’ coach Alain Vigneault will start -- bank on it being Luongo. Either way, the decision will be scrutinized. There is little doubt Vigneault is on the hot seat and knowing how coaches think, the Canucks should be believing a good win in Chicago could be the aspirin for their hangover.
The next Vancouver coach might only be a few miles away, at the All-State Arena. Craig MacTavish wasn’t hired to coach the Chicago Wolves -- Vancouver’s AHL affiliate -- for a decade. There is little doubt Canucks’ brass is watching closely, though there are no outward indications Vigneault is in trouble. There rarely are.
Until the Canucks win a championship, the Hawks will always have the upper hand. A year after an historic parade in Chicago, Vancouver was rioting their city instead of celebrating. But while the Hawks will always have their names on the Stanley Cup, losing to the Canucks last spring stung.
After getting eliminated, some Hawks were more open than others about rooting for anyone that plays Vancouver. After falling in seven games, they were powerless to do anything about it. On Sunday, once again, the Hawks get a new chance to take down their bitter rival.
When the puck is dropped it will kick-off the season series, destined to produce another dramatic chapter in a short but already storied history between the cities and teams.