CHICAGO – In some ways, Wednesday night marked an end to an Original Six rivalry when the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks met in Game 7 of their Western Conference semifinals at the United Center.
Next season the Wings will be moving to the Eastern Conference which means the only way the teams will meet in the Stanley Cup finals.
“The next time we face them in the Stanley Cup playoffs it’ll be a lot of fun; that means we will have gotten someplace so that’s a good thing,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said Wednesday morning. “For me, I’ve mentioned this already, is I really like the city. They have high end players. I like the way the Blackhawks play because they play fast. I like coming in the building. Their captain is what a captain should be, he’s respectful of the game and does things right.”
This was the 16th playoff series between the storied franchises and 81st meeting overall in the postseason.
“There’s no better way to go out with these guys than a Game 7, win or go home game,” forward Justin Abdelkader said.
“We couldn’t have scripted it any better with hopefully a win for us,” defenseman Kyle Quincey said.
The teams have met twice in the Stanley Cup finals in 1934 and 1944 with the Blackhawks’ winning both series.
“They remind me of our franchise in a lot of ways,” Babcock said. “The history that’s around it, you bump into guys every time you’re in the building. I like that part of hockey. When you’ve been in a long time and you’ve had a lot of respect for the game, Original Six means something to you.”
The teams, who are separated by less than 300 miles of road, have faced each other in more regular season games than any other two clubs in NHL history.
The first meeting took place on Nov. 24, 1926. The Detroit Cougars beat the Black Hawks, 1-0, on a goal by Frank Frederickson with five minutes remaining in the third period. The assist went to Hobie Kitchen and rookie goalie Hap Holmes recorded the shutout.
“It was rough, a lot different when I was a kid,” Abdelkader said of the early years that he can recall of the rivalry. “The Proberts, McCartys, Kocurs, it was fun. All you have to do is look at the jerseys, Original Six, two of the best jerseys in the league. Just the tradition and what each organization is about, every time you put on the jersey you take pride in it.
“And the fans are just into it,” Abdelkader said. “They’re a big part of why the rivalry has been so good. It’s been fun to be a part of. To see both cities get behind their teams and the excitement and energy in both stadiums is always fun.”
With Chicago’s team falling on hard times for a bit, Colorado took over as the Wings’ biggest rival. From 1996-2002 the teams met five times in the playoffs.
And in Game 6 of their meeting in the 1996 Western Conference finals, Claude Lemieux checked Kris Draper from behind into the boards that sent the Wings forward to the hospital with a broken jaw, shattering a cheek and an orbital bone.
“That took over for a few years when they had those certain players and that one hit certainly sparked everything,” Quincey said. “But as soon as those players retired and the team and game changed that rivalry fizzled pretty quick.”
“Once Chicago got good again, they got (Patrick) Kane and (Jonathan) Toews and picked up a few other players the rivalry kind of renewed itself, got new energy,” Abdelkader said. “It’s tough when one team is really good and the other team is not so good, maybe it’s not going to be there as much, but when both teams are good and they’ve won a Stanley Cup over the past five years the rivalry intensifies that much more.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins were a rival for a few seasons after meeting the Wings in back-to-back finals.
“That was good there, but even those guys we played them in the finals, but we didn’t see them during the regular season,” Abdelkader said. “I’d have to say it’s Chicago for me.”
The Wings will play next season in a Division with three Original Six teams, Boston, Montreal and Toronto, along with Ottawa, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay.
“Travel-wise it’s going to be good,” Abdelkader said. “It’s going to be a lot different. Travel-wise it just makes so much sense, but it’s going to be a bummer not coming here three or four times a year.”
Chicago will be in a division with Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.
Columbus will also move from the West to the East, which will house of 16 of the league’s 30 teams.