Breaking Down Chicago Blackhawks' Budding Rivalry with St. Louis Blues
With that move, the league all but killed one of the best rivalries in sports, which featured the Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Fans should fear not, though, as a new rivalry between the 'Hawks and St. Louis Blues will more than make up the difference.
These two teams are one brutal open-ice hit away from becoming one of the biggest rivalries around and the fact that the road to the Stanley Cup will likely lead through one of these two cities only adds more fuel to the fire.
Breaking Down What Makes the Blues Contenders
St. Louis, like 28 other teams in the NHL, is gunning for the Chicago Blackhawks. Unlike most of the other teams in the league, it actually has the weapons to take the defending champions down.
This is a squad that is capable of rolling four forward lines straight through and doesn't have to go fishing for a matchup.
Every time the Blues hit the ice, they play a heavy brand of hockey. They are structured a lot like the Boston Bruins in the way that they've mixed talent and size. Anyone who watched St. Louis and the Los Angeles Kings during the 2013 postseason knows that this is a group that gives absolutely no quarter.
If the team has an advantage over Chicago, it's in the physicality department.
Players like David Backes lead with their size while small but talented forwards such as Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko are capable of putting up outstanding numbers despite playing bottom-six roles.
And if there's a team in the NHL that can match the defensive depth of the 'Hawks, it's the Blues. St. Louis ices arguably the best blue line in the league and rarely gives up easy goals.
Jaroslav Halak is in the way if you manage to get by the defense, and scoring on him hasn't been easy early on this season.
Chicago and the Lost Art of Defending Titles
With two trips to the Stanley Cup Final in the last four seasons, you won't find a core group that has played more hockey recently than that of the 'Hawks.
Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have all played close to an extra season over the last four years, so coming out of the gate sluggishly in 2013-14 isn't too surprising.
Tired and beat up, Chicago is still better than 20 or 25 teams in the NHL.
The 'Hawks play a talent-based, puck-possession system and feature some of the most ruthless, big-game players in the league. Kane has emerged as one of the most outstanding playoff performers in recent memory while Toews can beat you in a variety of ways and might be the best all-around player in the sport.
More so than any team of late, this version of the Blackhawks has a chance to successfully defend their Stanley Cup title. Another banner would put them in dynasty territory, but they'll have at least one heavyweight challenger to defeat on the way to the Final.
A Midwest Clash Brewing
Viewing the West as only a two-horse race would be silly. Regardless of whether or not these two teams clash in the playoffs or not, a rivalry is in the works. The Bruins and Red Wings have played twice so far, and there certainly isn't any love lost between those two fanbases already.
More than 700 miles separate those two rivals. However, fewer than 300 stand between St. Louis and Chicago.
The Midwest has a way of cycling people through its various cities. Whether people move because of college, jobs or relationships, there's a lot of transplants scattered through the middle of the country.
You'll see plenty of St. Louis-raised Blues fans in Chicago, and you'll see a ton of Chicago-raised 'Hawks fans in St. Louis. This creates a natural tension between the two groups that will extend itself to the players out on the ice.
The Blues have already taken steps to prevent 'Hawks fans from attending games in St. Louis. They instituted a ticket-sales policy this season in an attempt to prevent Chicago fans from invading home games for the Blues. Much to the chagrin of the brass and local fans, it doesn't appear to have worked.
That should boil the blood of even the most casual St. Louis fan.
A Showdown of Styles
St. Louis and Chicago are on freight trains headed straight for each other for more than geographical reasons. The two teams play drastically different styles, setting up a classic size vs. speed rivalry.
When the Blackhawks and Red Wings met out on the ice, it was typically a clash of talented teams trying to keep the puck away from each other,
While it made for some fun hockey, rarely did the contests get too heated. There was never blood on the ice and scrums rarely resulted in more than roughing penalties and cross-checks.
Will the Blues and 'Hawks be a cornerstone rivalry by the end of the year?
The Blues bring way too much sandpaper and grit to the ice to not get under the skin of the Blackhawks. Chicago proved in the playoffs last season that it wouldn't be pushed around, though, and merely trying to out-crash the 'Hawks won't result in wins.
It's only a matter of time before there is blood on the ice between these two upper-echelon teams. Once that happens, it'll get nasty.
Then there's the added treat of watching Ken Hitchcock and Joel Quenneville try to out-coach each other.
This brewing rivalry has all the ingredients needed to be a classic.
St. Louis and Chicago will meet for the second time this season on October 17, and will add another chapter to this budding clash of the titans.
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