Bieksa, Canucks ready for Hawks
Rivalry brings best out of Hawks, Canucks
Washington and Pittsburgh can pretend all they want that they have the best rivalry in the NHL, but if you ask us, nothing beats Chicago versus Vancouver over the past few seasons.
When the two teams meet, you get fierce, heart-stopping, high-skilled hockey; we've had three playoff series, with Chicago winning it all in 2010 and Vancouver reaching the Cup finals this past spring.
The two teams go at it again tonight in Vancouver in ESPN.com's NHL Game of the Week.
"It's great. We've played each other, what, 30-something times the last four years or something crazy like that," said Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman. "Obviously they're becoming our biggest rival."
The Blackhawks return to Vancouver for the first time since their heart-breaking first-round Game 7 loss to the Canucks last season. We won't forget being there. It was the best playoff game we've covered in our career; Jonathan Toews tying the score late in the third with a short-handed goal for the Blackhawks & Roberto Luongo stopping Patrick Sharp in overtime & and, of course, Alex Burrows winning the series later in the extra session.
For the Canucks that victory finally exorcized a few playoff demons after losing to the young Chicago squad in the previous two postseasons. And it just added to a riveting rivalry.
"It's actually been a lot of fun," Canucks GM Mike Gillis told ESPN.com. "It wasn't a rivalry four years ago, but it's evolved through playoff rounds into a really fierce competition. I think the teams are well-matched. They've got elite-level players, we've got elite-level players; the games are played at a very fast pace. They're hard-hitting, and you know for the most part, relatively clean. It's been a really strong rivalry and I know their guys will be ready and our guys will be ready. It should be a really great game Wednesday night."
We can't think of the last time a Hawks-Canucks game was boring.
"They're always entertaining games," said Bowman. "We both play similar styles -- neither team sits back, we're both aggressive. We've got a high skill level. There's a lot of history there in terms of things that have happened back and forth. I expect an intense game tonight and I'm excited."
The Blackhawks are looking for a little revenge, not just for this past spring, but also more recently for a 6-2 home loss against Vancouver on Nov. 6. Luongo was in net for that game, but it will be Cory Schneider tonight as Luongo is day to day with an upper-body injury.
"They hadn't been playing great when they came in and spanked us in our own building," said Bowman. "That can happen, it can get you going. They're going to be motivated and we're certainly going to be."
But it's Chicago off to a flying start, not Vancouver. The Western Conference-leading Hawks are 11-4-3, while the Canucks have been up and down with a 9-8-1 record. Vancouver seemed to get it going on nights like Nov. 6 when it is motivated by the opposition, but has seemed to fall back when the opposing team doesn't interest it.
"We have matched the competition in a lot of ways. If our guys consider it an elite-level team, they've risen to the occasion," Gillis said. "Emotionally, they're not quite there when it comes to teams that aren't considered in that category. Although we're seeing sign of life now, we've won three of our last four. Our team seems to be playing a lot better. A lot more effort, a lot more consistency, a lot more speed, so it's starting to come."
It hasn't been all rosy for the Blackhawks despite the solid record. There's been much debate in the Chicago media over a power play that ranks only 23rd in the NHL despite all that high-end talent.
"That's been a struggle, but those things are going to come and go," said Bowman. "We've been putting a lot of effort into it. Oddly enough, our second unit has been better lately than our top unit. Sometimes the guys with a lot of skill want to make the pretty plays, but we're getting there. There's always something to gripe about, right?"
Nothing to complain about Wednesday night. It's Hawks-Canucks, and that's never a bad thing.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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Stats & Information
Points to watch for in Wednesday's game:• The Blackhawks have won three straight games, tying a season-high so far.
• Chicago captain Jonathan Toews has four goals and two assists in his past three games; he had six points combined in his previous 10 contests.
• Vancouver's Daniel and Henrik Sedin each reached the 20-point plateau so far.