CHICAGO – Take a good look when the Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings step onto the ice for the opening faceoff today at the United Center.
There’s a good chance it will mark their final meeting as division rivals.
“For me, personally, it’s not anything I’m going to miss,” Hawks forward Daniel Carcillo said.
A lot of us will.
At the end of this season, the Wings will pack their red-and-white bags and move to the Eastern Conference. It’s part of a big realignment plan the NHL approved last month.
The Hawks will stay in the Western Conference as part of a seven-team division that in includes Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg. The rest of the west will include Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver.
That’s too bad. Hawks games are a lot of fun no matter which opponent is in the building, but when it’s the Wings, the excitement at the “Madhouse on Madison” hits another level.
The Original Six rivals have shared a division for more than three decades, dating to the Norris Division, and have played each other 724 times during the regular season. If you guessed the Hawks are 277-354-84-9 in those matchups, you are an amazing guesser.
The Wings dominated the rivalry for a few decades, only to see the Hawks take control during the past few seasons. All the while, Hawks fans have screamed in unison with derisive chants about Detroit no matter which team is sitting on the visitors’ bench.
What are Hawks fans supposed to do now? Rip on the city of Winnipeg? Is that even a city? For all I know, it’s a village or a township. Maybe we can settle on “Canadian outpost.”
It’s not like the Wings are going away forever. But, still.
They’ll be an Eastern Conference team, just like the Buffalo Sabres or Florida Panthers or Carolina Hurricanes or any other club that makes one-time visits during a normal season.
Yet the Wings aren’t any other club.
That’s why Hawks coach Joel Quenneville expects the heated rivalry to survive.
“I still think it will always be in place,” Quenneville said Thursday after practice. “Those games will be even more exciting as you go along, knowing that they’re only coming in here once a year and we go there once a year as well.
“It’s been a special rivalry throughout the years. I still think that it will be recaptured quickly when we do play one another.”
It’s kind of like when a friend moves away.
You’ll keep tabs on one another from afar. You’ll still see each other every now and then. You’ll make new friends, or in this case, new rivals.
“It will be missed not having them in the conference,” Hawks forward Viktor Stalberg said. “It’s one of those fun games.”
Lately, the Hawks have played in a lot of fun games.
A good rivalry has blossomed with Nashville in the past few seasons. The Blues’ recent revival has pumped some life into an I-55 showdown. Likewise, Minnesota could become a great matchup, especially with a feisty playoff series.
Stalberg and his teammates will stay focused on what’s in front of them. They’ll embrace existing division rivalries more than they’ll miss an old one with the Wings.
“I think it’s bigger for the fans than the players sometimes because it’s been going back so far,” said Stalberg, who is in his third season with the Hawks. “Players come and go.”
Here’s hoping the rivalry remains, albeit in a limited fashion.
In the meantime, today should be fun.
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.