The last time the Blackhawks played the Detroit Red Wings – believe it or not, nearly nine months ago – a postseason berth was there to be had.
Taking three of four points against their rivals in back-to-back games to end last season would’ve secured a playoff spot for the Hawks. Instead, the Red Wings, who already were playoff-bound, sent the Hawks and their fans home with their heads hanging after a 4-3 victory in regulation in Game 82.
The Hawks had to hope for a Minnesota Wild victory over the Dallas Stars. Lucky for them, they got it, only to see their Stanley Cup defense end against the Vancouver Canucks in seven games in the first round.
There won’t be as much on the line Friday at the United Center when the Hawks and Red Wings finally meet this season. But having three of their next eight games against Detroit does intensify things.
“It’s been a long time, and we were lucky enough to get into the playoffs,” forward Patrick Kane said. “[But] it seems like every time we play them, there is something to play for. Right now, it’s probably the top of the West standings, getting points and trying to create separation, different things like that.”
The Hawks’ rivalry with the Red Wings doesn’t have the bile and contempt associated with the Canucks, spurred on by three consecutive meetings in the postseason.
Instead, there’s a mutual respect. Trash talk typically overshadows any pleasantries with the Canucks, but against the Red Wings, it’s mainly compliments.
“They had a year after the Cup last year that is always a tough year,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “They seem to be back on track. They’ve got two good goalies in [Ray] Emery and [Corey] Crawford. They’re real mobile on the back [end]. It’s hard to have guys better than [Duncan] Keith and [Brent] Seabrook. I think [Nick] Leddy’s really come on. [Marian Hossa], [Patrick] Sharp, [Jonathan] Toews and Kane, they’re world-class players. Should be fun.”
Despite winning the Stanley Cup two years ago, the Hawks always view Detroit as a hurdle. The aging Red Wings, who will be without Tomas Holmstrom (groin tear), are still an example of sustained success.
They didn’t make many moves this offseason and still rely on Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, but the Red Wings are still right there with the Hawks with 47 points in 36 games. Goalie Jimmy Howard has been stellar with a league-best 22 wins and a 1.95 goals-against average.
The Hawks went 4-2 against the Red Wings last season, but a fight with them for the Central Division crown is expected.
“We have them a lot coming up, a lot of big games,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It seems like your divisional opponents, it seems like they come in bunches against certain teams. We’ll be seeing them a lot, for sure. They have a lot of good things about their team that make them one of the top teams in our conference and the league. It’s been in place for a long time.”