4 Reasons Canucks vs. Blackhawks Is the Best Rivalry in the NHL Today

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2013

4 Reasons Canucks vs. Blackhawks Is the Best Rivalry in the NHL Today

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    The NHL has seen its share of great rivalries over the years. Montreal/Boston dates back to the days of the original six, with its flames fanned by Don Cherry to this day. The Battle of Alberta reigned supreme in the 1980s. Colorado and Detroit fought for Western Conference supremacy in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

    Over the past few years, no NHL rivalry has been as heated as the one between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks. Much like today's Edmonton Oilers, the Hawks missed the playoffs for enough years to collect some quality draft choices. The team suddenly became respectable during the 2008-09 season.

    The rivalry came to a boil in March 2009 as the two teams circled each other as potential playoff rivals. Big Dustin Byfuglien took some liberties with Roberto Luongo and the Canucks fought back. Alex Burrows pulled Duncan Keith's hair during their fight. Players and fans on both sides ended the game outraged, looking for justice.

    The teams have met 32 times since then, thanks to three straight years of playoff matchups. Both sides have experienced thrilling victories and agonizing defeat.

    Every time the Canucks and Blackhawks play, the games seem to have extra significance. This Tuesday, Chicago is hoping to tie the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks by extending their season-opening unbeaten streak to 16 games—a full one-third of the shortened 48-game season.

    The Canucks would like to take two points out of the United Center and would like nothing better than to play spoiler in the Hawks' pursuit of the record.

    With the potential for another memorable game, here's a look at why Canucks and Blackhawks always get fired up for games against each other.

Intense Playoff Rivalry

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    If you have a long memory, you'll recall that the Vancouver Canucks beat the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of their improbable run to the 1982 Stanley Cup Final.

    The series remains legendary thanks to coach Roger Neilson raising a white towel on a hockey stick at the old Chicago Stadium as a show of surrender to questionable calls by the referee. When the teams returned to Vancouver, fans throughout the Pacific Coliseum waved white towels of their own as a show of support, and a sports tradition was born.

    More recently, the Blackhawks and Canucks renewed their acquaintance in three consecutive playoff years, from 2008-09 to 2010-11.

    In 2009, making their first playoff appearance in five seasons and having played just one series since 1997, the young Hawks made a statement when they overcame a 2-1 series deficit to knock off the more experienced Canucks in six games in Round 2 before falling to the Red Wings in the Western Conference Final.

    Vancouver was looking to exact revenge when the teams met in the second round again the following year. History repeated itself—the Blackhawks once again triumphed in six games, this time carrying the momentum throughout the series. The Canucks faced a summer of second-guessing, while the Hawks went on to win their first Stanley Cup in 50 years.

    In 2010-11, the matchup came in the first round and both teams were eager to duel once again. The series was the most dramatic of the bunch: The Canucks won the first three games, then the Hawks battled back to tie things up at three and force a deciding seventh game in Vancouver.

    A late third-period goal from Jonathan Toews tied a hard-fought game at one and gave Chicago hope, but Alex Burrows jumped on a giveaway early in overtime to catapult the Canucks onto a roll that would take them all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

    The defending champs were devastated. They're still seeking revenge of their own.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

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    After years of futility, the current version of the Chicago Blackhawks was built largely through the draft, with a young core that has remained essentially intact since the team rose back into the upper echelons of the NHL starting in 2008-09. Some roster changes were made due to salary cap limitations after the team won the Stanley Cup in 2010, but many key players remain.

    The Vancouver Canucks have also stuck primarily with a core group, most of whom were drafted by the team and developed during and after the 2004-05 lockout.

    Through their regular-season matchups and three consecutive years of playoff meetings, there has been plenty of time for the blood to boil among familiar faces.

    Here are the players who have participated in the entire rivalry, right from 2009:



Dave Bolland's Trash Talk

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    Chicago's Dave Bolland has been a quote machine when it comes to the rivalry between the Canucks and Blackhawks.

    He's best known for calling the Sedin twins "sisters" back in 2011 and saying he hates everyone on the Canucks. Here's more, from Slam! Sports:

    Well, (the Sedins will) never become Hawks. I don't think we'd let them on our team. We'd be sure not to let them on our team. And, yeah, they probably still would be sisters. I think they might sleep in bunk beds. The older one has the bottom one, the younger one got the top.

    Henrik Sedin has recently become the Canucks' all-time leading scorer and has the second longest ironman streak in the NHL. He hasn't missed a game since before the 2004-05 lockout, so the "sister" jokes got tired in Vancouver a long time ago. As coach Alain Vigneault said when he learned of Bolland's comments: "Dave Bolland has an IQ the size of bird seed and a face only a mother can love."

    Not even a coach can rise above the odd petty insult when it comes to these two teams.

Duncan Keith's Elbow on Daniel Sedin

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    On March 21, 2012, Vancouver and Chicago had one eye focused on their respective postseasons when they met at the United Center for their last game of the year. The season series had been tight as usual, but the game became memorable when Duncan Keith knocked Daniel Sedin to the ice with an elbow to the head.

    Keith was suspended for five games and Daniel was sidelined until Game 4 of the Canucks' first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings. At the time, the hit seemed to light a fire under the Canucks that inspired them to a strong regular-season finish that won them their second consecutive Presidents' Trophy. Nevertheless, the absence of their leading scorer was a handicap they couldn't overcome in their playoff series against the Kings, and they fell in five games.

    When the Canucks and Hawks met again in Vancouver on February 1 of this year, Canucks like Kevin Bieksa weren't shy about telling the Vancouver Sun's Brad Ziemer that the team was thinking about revenge:

    There is bitterness, for sure. We're still not happy about it and I'm sure deep down Danny is not happy about it. But it's part of the game. I have cheap-shotted guys before, not as bad as that, but it happens in games and you have to accept it. We're going to play him hard when we get the chance, but I don't think we'll go out of our way to do anything. Winning the game is the most important thing.

    The Canucks did indeed keep their focus that night. Duncan Keith escaped no worse for the wear, and after a tactical 60 minutes, the Canucks triumphed in that game thanks to a shootout winner from rookie Jordan Schroeder while Roberto Luongo stared down all three Blackhawks snipers.

    Advantage Canucks—for now.

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