I am definitely beginning to loathe the All Star Break. Sure the Draft is fun (fun in the sense that on Twitter it brings out some of hockey blogging's most sarcastic bastards), the Skills Competition is great, but that's pretty much it. The game, while having moments of entertainment, is not hockey. Add in the extra day with no hockey happening this time around and the wait was agonizing for most fans. Thankfully, relief comes in the form of the Chicago Blackhawks, who roll into Rogers Arena tonight to renew hostilities with the Canucks. The timing couldn't possibly be better. With people still talking about the Canucks visit to Boston and the fallout since then, I am thrilled to death our TRUE rivals are here to show how it should be done. Hostility with an undertone of respect. Physicality without the vicious attempt to injure. No ridiculous excuses for disgusting attempts to injure, and thankfully (unless Patrick Kane decides to endorse Newt Gingrich after practice) no political overtones. No homophobic and sexist slurs. Just two teams and two fan bases with an intense dislike for each other, yet aren't complete dicks about it. Welcome, old friends. We're happy to see you. Prepare for war.
Nope, we can finally put all that nonsense behind us and move into the stretch drive. The trading deadline is a little over 3 weeks away, the Canucks are in the hunt for another Western Conference title not to mention the Presidents Trophy, they're for the most part healthy, and they have 3 big games this week: Chicago, Detroit and... Colorado? Yeah, more on the Avalanche later this week. Let's focus on the Hawks, shall we?
As is common with bitter rivals, the Blackhawks and Canucks share a lot of common traits. One of these traits is high expectations. Both teams are a buzz with trade speculation and desires to improve, as well as goaltending 'controversies' that belie their places in the NHL standings. There are a lot of teams that would kill to have the problems these two teams have, yet they're both very real issues. And while the Canucks and Hawks are trying to finish with the best record possible and head into the playoff with what they see as the right mix to advance through the other contenders in the West, one has to think there's a little bit of thought in all this on how they plan to beat each other should they meet for the 4th consecutive year.
Another thing that I think helps the Canucks is knowing they will be up for this game, unlike a lot of first games after a long break. Add in the thorough no-show the last time these teams met and it should be more like we are used to between these teams. Chicago is not going to be able to go a 2nd consecutive game without taking a penalty against the Canucks, and Cory Schneider will be out to prove something after lasting just 20 minutes in his last home start. Add in Brendan Morrison making his Hawks debut tonight in front of his hometown, Dave Bolland's presence and Jonathan Toews returning from injury, and this game is definitely not lacking for intensity heading into game time.
The reason I love the games with Chicago, is not just the quality of the hockey, but the fact that the respect has developed, if somewhat begrudgingly. Sure some Chicago fans and a certain hack of a journalist still yap incessantly about narratives long since debunked, but the majority of the press on both sides, and a good chunk of the fans have that mutual admiration that is the mark of a true rivalry. The Hawks are a good team, and let's face it, a much better team on and off the ice without a meathead like Daniel Carcillo in the lineup. Would this rivalry be as enjoyable had the Hawks won a 3rd straight time? Obviously not. That is the true power of that goal by Alex Burrows. He didn't just slay the dragon, he showed the hockey world that this team could respond when challenged, unlike the past. The key is to have something left by the time they make it to the finals should they be that fortunate. Chances are, they'll have to go through Chicago again at some point to do this.
So while some will still try and push their narratives about controversies, which team is dirtier, diving and other such nonsense, I for one look forward to this game between two of the NHL's best simply for what it is. It doesn't need this other stuff to sell it. It's capable of demanding your attention all on it's own.
CLASSIC METAL SONG OF THE DAY
Known to many fans as one of the bands that inspired a young Metallica, Diamond Head were one of the true beasts of the NWOBHM. They're back making music, but their early stuff was legendary, including this (one of a few tracks later covered by Metallica)