Historic Blackhawks-Canucks rivalry revisited
The Blackhawks defeated the Canucks 5-2 in Vancouver Wednesday night. Although it was one-sided from the beginning, the game showed sparks of the two teams' historic rivalry.
"Every time we play these guys the pace is unbelievable," Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said before the game.
The Hawks sit at No. 2 for the league's best record, down by four points to the Ducks' 83. The Canucks currently hold the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with 63 points.
The two teams have an opportunity to meet in the playoffs for the fourth time in six years. The rivalry, despite cooling down in the last few months, will have an opportunity to ascend to its former greatness once again.
The rivalry likely started following the NHL's re-alignment in 1974. Both teams were placed in the Smythe Division. For two years, the two teams scratched and clawed for the top spot. In 1974-75, the Canucks won the division by two points over the Blues and four over the Blackhawks. One year later, the Blackhawks would take the title by one point over the Canucks.
The NHL used a new playoff format in 1982. Four teams from each division would qualify for a slot in the tournament. The two teams met in the Campbell Conference Finals after the Blackhawks defeated the Blues and North Stars in the previous two series while the Canucks dismantled the Kings and Flames. The Canucks won the series against their still-blossoming nemesis 4-1.
During Game 2 of the series, Canucks head coach Roger Neilson waved a white towel on the end of a hockey stick as if he was surrendering after becoming upset with the on-ice officiating. Some of the players copied him and thus created the tradition of "Towel Power." The organization to this day produces more than 20,000 towels with the team's logo for each playoff game to build up the anticipation in the atmosphere.
The Blackhawks met the Canucks again in 1995 in the Western Conference Semifinals, but it was Chicago's turn to prevail. Both teams had a difficult first round in the playoffs; the Hawks won a seven-game series against the Maple Leafs while the Canucks advanced following their own seven-game series against the Blues. However, the conference semifinals would be one-sided as Chicago easily defeated Vancouver in four games. The Blackhawks fell to the Red Wings in the next round.
The rivalry never reached that height again until the 2008-09 season when the Canucks' Ryan Kesler accused the Blackhawks' Andrew Ladd of being a "coward" following an on-ice hit in the conference semifinals.
"He's a coward and that's the way it is," Kesler told the Vancouver Sun one year later following a regular-season skirmish between the two players. "It started last year in the playoffs. He hit me [and] cross-checked me in the face when I wasn't looking. At least he was man enough to hit me when I was looking this time."
The Blackhawks defeated the Canucks in another semifinals that year 4-2 before Chicago met the same fate as their '95 counterparts: a series loss to the Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals.
In the 2010 season, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1961. However, destiny would have it that the Hawks would have to get by the Canucks in another semifinals meeting. Chicago advanced following a grueling six-game series with Vancouver and defeated the Sharks and Flyers in the next two rounds to win the championship.
The rivalry took a big swing in favor of Chicago entering the next season. However, the defending-champion Hawks struggled following a harsh offseason of losing key players, but ultimately reached the playoffs again. The Hawks would not have an easy route to the Cup again; the No. 1 Canucks awaited in the first round. The Canucks took a 3-0 series lead and appeared to have complete control of the round until Vancouver's Raffi Torres hit Chicago's Brent Seabrook in Game 3, enraging the Hawks' bench.
"It's just concrete evidence of how much we dislike that team and it's added motivation to our situation," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said after the game.
Chicago bounced back and won the next three games and forced an overtime in Game 7 on a shorthand goal in the final minute. Vancouver won in overtime and paved way for the team to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals where they lost in seven games to the Bruins. The impending riot in Vancouver resulted in 140 reported injuries and 101 arrests.
The intense rivalry wouldn't calm down in the next season.
The Blackhawks' Dan Caricillo called out the Canucks' Maxim Lapierre at a press conference when he signed with Chicago.
"I watched that [playoff] series and certain guys that don't play the way they usually play can get away with it in the playoffs because there is no fighting in the playoffs," said Carcillo who was introduced to the media at the conference with teammate Andrew Brunette. "I'm going to have to try and get them to answer the piper. There is a few guys that played outside their shoes. I think I can keep most of those guys in check when we play them this year: [Max] Lapierre, [Tanner] Glass and [Raffi] Torres. Lapierre is at the top of the list, though."
The Hawks' Dave Bolland followed on a Chicago radio station by referring to Vancouver legends Henrik and Daniel Sedin as the Sedin "Sisters." Canucks coach Alain Vigneault quickly retaliated.
“When you have, comments like Bolland’s, he’s obviously an individual whose IQ is probably the size of birdseed," Vigneault said. "And he has a face that only a mother can love."
The Hawks' Duncan Keith responded by elbowing Daniel Sedin in the head at a home game on March 21, 2012. Keith was suspended five games following the incident.
Following a lockout in 2013, the Canucks' Jannik Hansen was suspended for a game following a hit in the back of the head to the Hawks' Marian Hossa. Hossa had to be helped off the ice after the collision. Although Coach Vigneault claimed Hossa's hit was unintentional, Toews felt differently.
"It's pretty evident that he wasn't reaching for the puck or anything," Toews said after the game, accusing Hansen of deliberately harming Hossa.
The abbreviated season ended with the Blackhawks on top again for the second time in four years. The Hawks defeated the Bruins in a difficult six-game series while the Canucks were swept in the first round against the Sharks.
If the Canucks continue to struggle this season and are able claim the conference's bottom seeds in the playoffs and meet the Blackhawks in the first round, the rivalry will have an opportunity to write another chapter in its 40-year-old book.
If the series is anything like the ones in the past, we know it will be viscous, passionate and full of quotes to report on the next day.