It’s appropriate that the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks meet one more time in the playoffs as Central Division rivals.
That all changes next season, when the Wings move to the Eastern Conference and the Blackhawks remain in the West.
In NHL history, only the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens have played each other more than the Wings and Blackhawks.
The Bruins and Canadiens have played 721 regular-season games and 170 more in the playoffs. The Wings and Blackhawks have met 725 times during the regular season and 74 times in the playoffs.
“I think it’s great for the league,” Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader said of the Wings-Blackhawks conference semifinal. “Anytime you can have an Original Six matchup and Original Six teams in the playoffs, I think it’s great.
“We’re looking forward to playing Chicago here in the playoffs one last time before we move conferences.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville knows that Detroit-Chicago is a special rivalry.
“We’ve found, when we play Detroit and some of the teams in our division, the intensity is right in the place, the motivation’s in place,” Quenneville said. “Whether it’s the tradition, animosity from the fans, all the way to the players, it’s a special history there.”
The Blackhawks won all four regular-season games against the Wings this season, three in overtime and a 7-1 rout on March 31.
Here’s how the teams match up:
There probably isn’t a deeper set of forwards than the Blackhawks, led by captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, former Wing Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw, Michael Frolik, Brandon Saad, etc.
Hossa and Sharp led the way for the Blackhawks against the Minnesota Wild, each with six points in five games.
Sharp has been especially dangerous against the Wings, with 15 goals and 18 assists in 44 games.
“Smart player,” Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “He’s got a great shot, and he’s got a nose for the net.
“Playing with Kane doesn’t hurt him either. They got a very deep lineup, and you gotta just find a way with the matchups of outplaying them.”
Hossa hasn’t been bad, either, with nine goals and 14 assists in 30 games. Kane has eight goals and 20 assists in 35 games.
Toews, whose career face-off winning percentage is 57, will present more of a challenge at the dot than Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf did.
Detroit counters with their own excellent captain, Henrik Zetterberg, who had three goals and five assists in seven games in the Anaheim series.
Pavel Datsyuk was right behind him with two goals and five assists.
“(Datsyuk’s) one of the biggest talents I ever played with,” Hossa told reporters in Chicago. “He’s just extremely skilled with the puck, so smart and poised with the puck, and it’s just fun to watch him.
“…We face a big challenge, and we have to be very careful when he’s on the ice because he can make the difference.”
Datsyuk, who will take most of the important draws, has a career face-off winning percentage of 54, but just 51 percent against the Blackhawks.
Datsyuk has 15 goals and 32 assists in 61 career games against the Blackhawks.
Zetterberg has 19 goals and 28 assists in 51 games against the Blackhawks.
“Those are two guys, we need to make things very difficult on them and not let them play their game,” Toews said. “They’re the two guys who are making their offense go right now.
“For myself especially, there’s some responsibility in maybe getting on the scoresheet a little more often but also trying to keep those guys away from the net.”
Wings coach Mike Babcock elected to split up Zetterberg and Datsyuk in Game 7 against the Ducks but hasn’t decided if he’ll stay with that plan.
The Wings will need players like Damien Brunner, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen, Abdelkader and Mikael Samuelsson to chip in offensively if the top forwards cancel each other out.
Unfortunately for the Wings, there’s no Nicklas Lidstrom anchoring the defense these days.
But the Blackhawks still have Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as their top pair. Keith was the team’s third-leading scorer against the Wild, with one goal and four assists.
Chicago also has solid performers in Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Nick Leddy and Michal Rozsival.
The Wings’ top pair is Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, who both performed well against the Ducks.
Carlo Colaiacovo, a veteran who was injured much of the regular season, jumped into the Anaheim series for the last two games, replacing rookie Brian Lashoff. Colaiacovo was paired with Jakub Kindl.
“When you don’t practice as a team very much and you’ve been out for so long, it’s a tough thing to stay up to that speed,” Colaiacovo said. “But for me, it’s always been about staying ready, and that’s the message I always give myself– just stay ready.
“At the end of the day, I’ve played in this league for a long time and understand the situations and moments. You just have to get yourself in the game right away.”
Kyle Quincey and rookie Brendan Smith have played pretty well together. They know they have their work cut out for them with the Blackhawks.
“They’re so fast and they’re so talented,” Smith said. “We’re going to have to shut them down offensively, obviously.
“I think we try to keep playing the way we’ve been playing and stick to the system, and that will take care of us.”
It would have helped to have steady rookie Danny DeKeyser, but he’s out after undergoing surgery on his broken right thumb.
Jimmy Howard is well aware of all the snipers the Blackhawks have.
He also knows that guys like Kane and Hossa won’t miss some of the shots that Anaheim’s Corey Perry did.
“We know we can stay with them,” Howard said. “Every game was close this year, except for the one there.
“It’s going to be upon us going out there and sticking to our game plan and not getting too carried away when they get the puck in the zone for a little bit, because it’s going to happen.”
Howard is 4-7 with a 2.79 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in 17 games against the Blackhawks.
By contrast, Corey Crawford has dominated the Wings, going 11-2-0 with a 1.82 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in 15 games against them.
“Some do have a record that might look like it’s favorable, but I think you can throw that out when you begin playoffs,” Quenneville said. “I just think with him (Crawford), it was nice to get that first-round win.
“I just thought he played a real strong playoff round for us, and he had a real good season. He looks fresh. He looked great in practice (Monday), so our approach is do what you’ve been doing and don’t change too much.”
Babcock has won at the highest levels, including the Stanley Cup and Olympic gold.
Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau admitted to being weary of trying to match wits with Babcock. Now it’s Quenneville’s turn.
Quenneville has never beaten the Wings in a playoff series, in three tries with the St. Louis Blues, once with the Colorado Avalanche and once with the Blackhawks.
This time, Quenneville likely has more talent and experience on his side this time, but Babcock never lacks in confidence in any situation.
Although there were many experts who picked the Wings to beat the Ducks in the first round, those same people won’t be picking the Wings this time.
That’s just fine with the Wings.
“We’ve gotten better as the season has gone on, especially as of late,” Abdelkader said. “Guys have gotten comfortable in their roles, and Howie has been great.
“We’re going into this series thinking we’re going to have a good chance to win it. We know we’re facing a really good team, and it’s not going to be easy.
“But we think we’re playing well, and we’re ready for the test.”