Wings, Blackhawks set for Original Six showdown
The matchup seemed inevitable.
Throughout the regular season, the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings remained king of the hockey mountain.
The Chicago Blackhawks? Well, they were a young, emerging club that appeared just one step behind Detroit.
The Wings took four of the six meeting between the two teams this year, but two of those occurred during the shootout.
The most memorable of games happened at this year's Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Chicago's Wrigley Field, a contest Detroit won 6-4.
Now, the Wings and Blackhawks continue their storied rivalry when they take to the ice for Game 1 Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET) at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Longtime rivals continue playoff clash
The Original Six franchises will faceoff in the post-season for the 15th time in their history, but the first time since 1995 — the last time Chicago made it to the West final, which was won by Detroit.
"I think it's good for hockey and it's fantastic for us that we get to play Chicago," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We played them in the Winter Classic, and now we're among the four teams still playing hockey while 26 teams are sitting at home."
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville echoed Babcock's remarks.
"There is a lot of history, animosity, passion involving both organizations and here we are playing for something very important. It's got a lot of meaning. I'm sure the game will reflect that in the crowds and the stands," he said.
Chicago's power play sizzles
Despite the 4-2-0 record against the Blackhawks this season, Detroit defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom knows the road to a second straight Stanley Cup final won't be an easy one.
"I think this is gonna be a tough one, too," he said. "We're going to have respect for them because they've earned being in the conference finals after beating teams with experience."
Lidstrom points to the impressive way Chicago disposed of the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks in consecutive playoff rounds.
Using a sizzling power play (7-for-24), the Blackhawks' speed was simply too much for the veteran Flames, who fell in six games.
Against the Canucks, Chicago became more physical, eventually eliminating its Western foes with a four-goal outburst in Game 6. The contest was highlighted by the scoring prowess of young guns Patrick Kane and captain Jonathan Toews, who combined for five goals.
The fourth-seeded Blackhawks also overtook Detroit as the NHL's top post-season power play.
"We're surprising a lot of people — including ourselves — to come this far, but all year we've never been satisfied," Toews told Hockey Night In Canada. "We've just enjoyed it. We've had fun playing hockey, and the sky's the limit for us."
Wings still the champs
But the second-seeded Wings remain a favourite to knock off their longtime rivals.
Detroit has been the NHL's most successful team in the last 12 years, winning four Stanley Cup titles during that stretch.
After sweeping the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1, Detroit needed a seven-game nail-biter to survive the pesky Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference semifinal. The game wasn't secured until veteran forward Dan Cleary converted the winner with only three minutes remaining in the third period.
Still, the Wings are only two series away from another championship.
"We know that they are the defending champs," Toews said. "I think there's an honour to play against a team like that and hopefully be the team that knocks them off. It's a huge challenge and a huge opportunity that we're excited about.
"In a lot of ways, the pressure's on them. We're just going to go out there and play and have fun and let loose."
With files from The Associated Press