Rival or not, Blues a challenge for Hawks

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks have different views on whether the St. Louis Blues automatically replace the Detroit Red Wings as their primary division rival, but they agree playing the Blues will be significant this season.

Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig, a St. Louis native, believes the Blues move into the Red Wings' rivalry spot with Detroit realigned to the Eastern Conference this season.

"I would say so, yeah," Bollig said after Monday's practice. "Obviously they're close, and we play them all the time. The way our two teams match up, they're always intense games. I would definitely say they're our biggest rival in the division now. I'm sure each and every game will be pretty exciting."

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane wasn't so quick to declare the Blues a major rival, but he believes Wednesday's game in St. Louis would be a tough one for the Blackhawks.

"These are games you get up for especially on the road against St. Louis," Kane said. "You know they're going to be ready to play against us. For us, we want to make sure we're playing a playoff-type game, be simple, be smart and be physical. Take the physicalness to them like they usually try to do us.

"As far as a rivalry, that usually comes from the fans' standpoint. I think in the locker room our biggest rivalry has been Vancouver for the past few years. If another team comes up and takes that Detroit spot, then we'll make it what it is."

The Blackhawks have owned the Blues in recent seasons with a 32-17-4 record against them since 2005. They haven't had a losing season against St. Louis since 2000-01.

The Blues are considered by many as the Blackhawks' biggest division and conference threat this season. Six ESPN hockey experts picked the Blues over the Blackhawks to represent the Central division in the Western Conference finals this season.

The Blues have lived up to that hype in their first two games. They defeated the Nashville Predators 4-2 in their season opener and topped the Florida Panthers 7-0 on Saturday.

"They're a very good team," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Over the last 2-3 years, they're as good as anybody over the regular season.

"I think they got a lot of good things about their team that make them successful. One thing is they play hard, they play physical, they go to the hard areas and they make you play a hard game. We find when we go in there we have to be all committed to playing that type of game and everybody contributing and don't be influenced in where you have to go to be successful."

Adding to the importance of division games this season is the NHL's change in playoff format. The top three teams from each division earn a playoff bid, and most teams will play other division opponents for the first two playoff rounds.

"They're more valuable knowing that standings-wise you position yourself to what's going to happen in the playoffs," Quenneville said. "Knowing you're playing those teams, I think you're going to be looking at St. Louis thinking this could be a very important game in the way things could set up in the course of a season. They got off two big starts to their games at home there. I'm sure they're excited about playing us as well."