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With their epic rivalry a fading memory, Blackhawks thumped by Canucks

A smile crept across Patrick Sharp’s face Thursday morning when the three-year blood-feud that was the Blackhawks-Canucks rivalry was brought up.

“Some of the most competitive series that we’ve been a part of, that’s for sure,” Sharp said of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 playoff battles that made the rivalry the sport’s best for three wild years. “There was some bad blood there, some hatred. And I think as time [went] on, maybe a little more respect has been shown.”

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The rivalry conjures images of Dave Bolland harassing the Sedin twins with his special brand of obnoxiousness; of Ryan Kesler and Jonathan Toews in each other’s faces on a nightly basis; of Ben Smith’s overtime goal in Game 6 blowing the roof off the United Center and Chris Campoli’s turnover in overtime of Game 7 ending the Hawks’ Stanley Cup defense.

Dave Bolland eyes Vancouver's Daniel Sedin during a game on March 29, 2009. (Sun-Times file photo)

“We had some great runs with these guys, intense series and real close matchups, as well,” Joel Quenneville said.

Thursday night’s game didn’t quite have the same feel as those epic postseason encounters. The Canucks are dead last in the Western Conference, and the Hawks are dead last in the Central Division. It was two teams playing out the string, trying to find some meaning in a meaningless game.

And it ended up just being another low point in a season full of them for the Hawks, a 5-2 loss to a dreadful team. J-F Berube got the hook in the second period after giving up four goals on 18 shots. It’s the 10th time this season the Hawks have yanked their goaltender (six for Anton Forsberg, two for Berube, two for Corey Crawford), a staggering statistic that explains much of the Hawks’ woes. It was the fifth straight game the Hawks have given up at least five goals, and the 13th time in 40 games since Corey Crawford was injured.

Nick Schmaltz and Matthew Highmore scored for the Hawks, with Alexander Edler scoring twice for the Canucks.

“We’re doing a lot of good things,” Highmore said. “It’s just momentary lapses. And in this league, when you don’t play a full 60 minutes, teams make you pay.”

Of the 40 players who dressed for Game 7 of the 2011 series, just seven played in this one — Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, Sharp, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Edler. That’s it. Heck, of the 20 Hawks who dressed for Tyler Motte’s last game in Chicago last January, only six were in the lineup Thursday night.

Nothing lasts forever, not in the salary-cap era, not in the parity-filled NHL.

“It’s so much fun to come to this city and play in this rink,” Henrik Sedin said. “It’s my favorite road city, team and rink. It always brings out the best in us and them, as well. It’s too bad we’re both out of the playoffs. No one would’ve believed that a couple of years back, but that’s the way things go.”

Sharp hadn’t given the roster turnover much thought, but when it was mentioned before the game, he marveled at how different both teams look these days.

“This team has had quite a bit of turnover,” Sharp said. “Ours, as well. Not sure that rivalry’s as strong as it’s ever been, but they’ve still got some good players over there and it should be a good game.”

It wasn’t all that good. And it certainly wasn’t all that memorable. And if this one left both sides a little wanting, imagine what it’ll be like in a few weeks when 16 other teams are fighting for the Stanley Cup, under the kind of unimaginable pressure that both teams used to feed off of.

“It’s certainly a different game [in the playoffs], whether rivalries are created,” Quenneville said. “[Getting] deeper in series, you find out a lot about everybody in tough situations and … finding different ways to come out on top. It’s always fun. The excitement of playing in this building in meaningful games is great.”

And this year, it’s nowhere to be found.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus
Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com