EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Too soon to call it a rivalry?
They’ll strap it on again Wednesday night at Staples Center in a matchup of the last two Western Conference semifinalists and four of the last five Stanley Cup champions.
“The games are always intense,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “They’re always close, and they’re fun to be a part of.”
Prior to the 2012-2013 season, the Kings and Blackhawks had met just once in the postseason, in 1974, when teams like the California Golden Seals and Kansas City Scouts were a part of the NHL.
Then came June 1, 2013, when Chicago and Los Angeles met in Game 1 of their Western Conference final, a game won by the Blackhawks and a series they clinched in five. Chicago would then go on to win its second Stanley Cup title in three years.
Fast forward exactly one year, on June 1, 2014, and it was the Kings celebrating a dramatic overtime victory over the Blackhawks in Game 7 of the West final, propelling them to the Stanley Cup Championships and their second title in three years.
Yes, the Blackhawks and Kings have gotten to know each other quite well in the last two years, but the relationship has grown less adversarial and more deferential.
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of hatred,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. “There’s a lot of respect on both sides. I think both teams respect what each other has accomplished. Once you’ve been through the grind a few times, you really appreciate what a team can do to win two championships in recent times.”
The Blackhawks will face a Los Angeles team that’s going through another tough January. The Kings are 2-3-4 this month and earlier in the week took the drastic step of placing center Mike Richards, the team’s third-highest paid player, on waivers. Richards has since cleared and is expected to report to the team’s AHL affiliate on Wednesday.
The Kings went 5-8-2 in January last season before regrouping to win the Cup, and they won just five of 11 games in the same month three years ago but took their No. 8 seed all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, where they knocked off the New Jersey Devils.
The Blackhawks won’t be fooled by where the Kings sit in the standings this time around either.
“We know they’re going to be hungry,” Quenneville said.