The Minnesota Wild are at that stage where they're still on the rise to championship contention and have nothing to lose in the current Stanley Cup playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks, a mere three years removed from a title and owners of the NHL’s best regular-season record, are serving as Minnesota’s most demanding measuring pole.
That combination has made for inevitable entertainment in a first-round series. Thus far, it has amounted to a 2-1 advantage for the Blackhawks, featuring two overtime decisions in three games, the last of which was particularly chippy.
Puckheads in the State of Hockey and the Windy City alike can and should get used to this. Scratch that—they should embrace it.
The timing of the crossroads between these two franchises could not be much better, as they are raring to become divisional rivals five months from now when the NHL’s realignment takes effect.
The Wild are plainly sculpting an elite foundation, with first-year, big-name team members Zach Parise and Ryan Suter catalyzing the franchise’s first playoff run in five years. Their outlook will only improve as an array of young stars log more seasoning and the chemistry of the core percolates.
All the while, for the first time in this barely teenaged franchise’s existence, it is on deck for meaningful geographic feuds to go with what ought to be its first-ever window as a certified Cup-caliber club.
Finally, beginning in 2013-14, when this gelling core is a year older and a year more learned, Minnesota and its fanbase will see fellow Midwestern and Central Time Zone franchises more regularly than anybody else.
In terms of ranking the most polarizing potential dance partners, there is no better choice than the Blackhawks, a storied organization that is adding to its legend.
In each of the other major sports circuits, Minnesota has its “Border Battle” with a Wisconsin-based team. The same goes for the collegiate sports scene with the Gophers and Badgers.
No such thing exists in professional hockey, though. Since their inception in 2000, the Wild have had to settle for Northwest Division rivalries in other time zones, the closest cohabitant being roughly 700 miles away in Colorado.
With the realignment, their closest divisional adversary will be separated from them by half that distance. It will also mean another case of Chicago and Minnesota competing within the same division, just as they do in football’s NFC North and baseball’s American League Central.
Good enough. Not only are the Blackhawks doing their Original Six heritage proud with their established core of title contenders, but Chicago is also the largest city and sports market in the region.
Those elements make the Hawks easy for the likes of Twin Cities residents to detest the same way people out East loathe regal New York franchises and Pacific Coast fans abhor Los Angeles.
This will be beneficial for Blackhawks buffs as well. Chicago will soon be the only Original Six team in the Western Conference, meaning its rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings is as good as retired.
With the Wild working their way up and only Wisconsin and Iowa separating their respective states, another healthy feud should be ready to fill the void without hesitation.
What has happened so far in the first of what will either be five, six or seven games this spring only accelerates the marinating process in this budding enmity. Marquee names like Parise, Suter, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are already sharing scoresheets more regularly and from here on out, at least in six out of every seven seasons, will do so no fewer than five times per year.
When they do, they will be representing the longest-tenured NHL city west of Lake Michigan and the state that collectively appreciates hockey at all levels more than any other region in America.
Chalk this one up as a puck in the publicity cage.