It was a celebration that would have been fitting for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. As Alex Burrows gloved a clearing attempt down, and threw it in front of him, an entire province held it's breath. The rolling puck placed itself perfectly into the slot and the Canucks' winger stepped into it. What happened after he shot the puck was an example of just how strong a rivalry can become. Fans screamed, players poured off the bench embracing, and a province collectively took a deep sigh of relief. The Blackhawks, tired and dejected, congratulated their goaltender on a performance to remember.
Down 3-0 in the series, the defending Stanley Cup Champions weren't supposed to be in a Game 7. Heck, they weren't even supposed to be in the playoffs. A regulation loss for the Dallas Stars at the hands of the Minnesota Wild ensured their ticket to the post season, and they gave it their all. In what was easily the most thrilling game of the playoffs, the ending had all the trimmings and dramatic punch that a rivalry of this magnitude deserved. But for Vancouver, it was a long road to get to their moment of jubilation.
In the 2008/09 season, the Canucks and Hawks squared off for the first time, with little history to draw upon between their squads. Vancouver came out strong, and had their moments of brilliance but it was Chicago who largely dominated the series. With young stars, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and the dynamic Patrick Sharp leading the charge, the Hawks were too fast and too deep for the Canucks to keep pace with. Fresh off a sweep of St Louis, the boys in blue were out gunned and dropped the series in six.
The following year, the teams met again in the playoffs. This time, there was a back drop to provide the series with some colour. There was a renowned crease crasher to complain about in Vancouver by the name of Dustin Byfuglien, and a host of talented role players to cause trouble. With names like Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Adam Burish and Marian Hossa lacing up for the run, the Hawks brought a team that boasted perhaps the deepest roster seen in the league in a very long time. Their young goaltender, Antti Niemi, provided a more agile upgrade to Khabibulin from the previous year. Still, while the Canucks had their share of firepower with the Sedin twins and Kesler providing offense, they found themselves yet again over powered by the Hawks unrelenting waves of pressure. A failing penalty kill and injured defensemen only added to their woes, and once again the Hawks drove up Luongo's stats and prevailed in six games en route to the Stanley Cup. Vancouver was once again left in heart break, and an arch-nemesis was born.
The well documented cap woes Chicago had in the off season meant a large amount of supporting players had to leave Chicago, making a recovery from their cup hangover slow and difficult. However, the 2010/11 season saw a third consecutive matchup between these teams that finally produced a different outcome for the Canucks. While the scare of letting a mammoth lead slide away in brutal fashion didn't help, the resolve of the team and fanbase doubled after Burrows found net midway through the first overtime. This was a game that saw spectacular goaltending, dominant play, a penalty shot, an overtime power play, a dog pile, and had jobs on the line. To say it was a must win for Vancouver would be an unjust summary.
With the result a footnote in history now, the focus shifts to the future. As newly acquired enforcer, Dan Carcillo, grinned in a press conference and listed a few Canuck' players he was looking to track down on the ice, the hatred and bitter rivalry these clubs have developed came back to the surface. With the 2011/12 season looming a month away, it's time to look to ahead, and start circling dates on the calender. It's going to get rough out there.