Rivalries are built in the postseason, on annual meetings and lengthy series that ratchet up the hatred and intensity. But the burgeoning Blackhawks-Kings rivalry isn’t so much about hatred as it is about mutual respect. Unlike their showdowns with the Vancouver Canucks in recent years, or the rapidly building feud with the St. Louis Blues, the Hawks and Kings are becoming rivals simply because they’re the top two franchises in the Western Conference.
Much like the Bruins-Hawks Stanley Cup Final last spring, this series — the second year in a row these teams have met in the conference final — has been noticeably lacking in extracurriculars and dirty play. It’s just been good, clean, hard hockey.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of bad blood,” Patrick Sharp said. “It’s been a pretty honest series — hard-working, lot of physical play, lot of nice goals. A fun one to be a part of. I think both sides have respect for each other.”
Added Bryan Bickell: “It’s two teams battling as hard as they can to win. I don’t think there’s a lot of hatred, like we [have] with some teams.”
Both teams are built to last, too. So while the divisional playoff format means the teams likely will only meet if they both win two rounds first, future meetings don’t seem terribly far-fetched.
“At the start of the season, you look at their team and what they’ve accomplished, the kind of guys they have in their locker room, you know they’re going be there in the thick of things,” Sharp said. “The Western Conference is tough, but I’m sure L.A. is going to be here for a while.”
Shortening the bench
Joel Quenneville has been denying that he’s shortened his bench this series, using three lines most of the time. But his new bottom two lines for Game 7 said otherwise. Quenneville broke up his usual fourth line to create a third line of Sharp, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith. The fourth line was Brandon Bollig, Michal Handzus and Kris Versteeg, back in the lineup.
Niklas Hjalmarsson said on Saturday that he left a lasting mark on his locker stall during the third intermission of Game 7 against Detroit after his apparent game-winning goal was disallowed. A quick inspection on Sunday revealed a large and deep nick in the edge of the bench, the work of either an aggressive stick or an angry skate stomp.
During the Minnesota series, Quenneville said he wasn’t one to make “frilly” pregame speeches. That wasn’t going to change for Game 7.
“No frill tonight,” he said.
Sharp said none was necessary.
“He says the right thing at the right time, but I think he knows our team will be ready to go,” he said.