Hawks, Wings not ready to let go of rivalry

The Wings move to the Eastern Conference next season, which means fewer games vs. the Hawks. Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings may be meeting for the final time as division opponents on Friday, but neither team envisions it being the end to their rivalry.

The NHL announced in March the Red Wings would move to the Eastern Conference next season, resulting in them playing the Blackhawks only twice in the regular season.

The Red Wings and Blackhawks are two of the Original Six teams that pre-date the NHL's 1967 expansion. They have played 724 times and first met in 1926.

Players from both teams said Friday they would miss seeing the other as often, but they were confident their annual games would still be heated affairs on and off the ice.

“Yeah, it's a little different,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said after Friday's morning skate at the United Center. “I don't mind the realignment the league decided to go with. But the one thing that does suck is not playing the Red Wings a number of times.

“I think the fans will always appreciate the rivalry. When we do see them, it'll always be a special game. I like going to Detroit playing in their own building. I like when they come here. They're fun games to play in.”

Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith had similar feelings.

“We're going to play them next year,” Smith said. “We're going to have a home-and-home. I don't think you can ever lose the rivalry. I guess it'll be heightened when we do play them the select few times that we can. It'll be sad to not come up here and not play all the games we normally play, four or five or whatever it may be here. That will suck, but it's going to be a lot better on our travel schedule.”

Sharp thought less could actually lead to more for the rivalry.

“Sometimes when you play the team 6-8 times a season, people think that builds rivalries,” Sharp said. “Sometimes it kills them. You see the same faces over and over. Seeing these guys once or twice a year, the fans will get fired up for that game, the players will, too. Maybe that will spark things.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he believed the fans made the rivalry as much as the players. He was confident that the rivalry wouldn't lose a beat.

“I think over the year the history there is very real, and the rivalry was definitely in place,” Quenneville said. “You could feel it going into games. You could feel the buzz in the crowd during games. The animosity not just the players, you can sense it from the fans. They even have the chants to represent that.

“I just think there's been so many games you've seen Detroit. You have so much respect for what they've done throughout their history and through the history of the games between one another. It'll definitely be missed, but I still think when we play each other once a year that it'll be easy to get back to that level of the rivalry.”

While Friday's game will mark their final regular-season matchup this season, the two teams could meet in the playoffs. As of Friday, the Blackhawks were the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and the Red Wings were No. 8.

Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland was in favor of facing the Red Wings in the playoffs.

“That would be pretty fun actually,” Bolland said. “If it is them, we'll be ready for it. They're still a good team. They're still a team that can changes things up right away. They've got a lot of good players. I think you got to be aware of them.”

The Blackhawks will be attempting a regular-season sweep of the Red Wings on Friday. The Blackhawks last accomplished that in the 1976-77 season.

Aside from preventing the sweep, the Red Wings are also looking for a better showing than their last meeting when the Blackhawks defeated them 7-1 in Detroit on March 31.

“I think you never forget something like that,” Smith said. “That was just a frustrating game in our part, a lot of mental errors. The biggest thing for us is to come back and try to redeem.”