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updated: 11/3/2011 8:39 PM

Hawks-Canucks rivalry gets early start this season

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  • Goalie Roberto Luongo, looking back as the puck comes out of the net on a goal by the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, and the Vancouver Canucks visit the Blackhawks at the United Center on Sunday night.

      Goalie Roberto Luongo, looking back as the puck comes out of the net on a goal by the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, and the Vancouver Canucks visit the Blackhawks at the United Center on Sunday night.
    Associated Press

 
 

Three playoff series in three years is going to create a rivalry, but rivalry doesn't begin to describe what the Blackhawks and their fans feel toward the Vancouver Canucks.

No, it's hatred -- and they are not alone.

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Consider that during the Stanley Cup Finals in June, this was the headline in the Toronto Globe and Mail: "Canucks have become NHL's most-hated team."

Former Sens president Roy Mlakar said the only Canadians rooting for Vancouver were in B.C., and Dallas forward Krys Barch said of Max Lapierre via Twitter, "I don't know if he has an ounce of man in him. I'd be embarrassed to be his father."

But Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney spoke for a good portion of the hockey community when he said on a Boston radio station that, "This (Vancouver) team is so easy to hate it is unbelievable. I'd say that 90 percent of the guys in the league want nothing to do with seeing them win."

And they did not, choking away a 2-0 Finals lead, getting outscored 23-8 in the series, including a 4-0 Game 7 defeat at home, before their fans took a match to the city in celebration of, um, losing.

So here come the Canucks to the United Center on Sunday, off to a sluggish start and wondering how long head coach Alain Vigneault can survive while having to play a $6.7 million goaltender who has a better chance of winning the Cy Young this month than the Vezina next summer.

He's a complete mess upstairs and has been booed at home this fall after gagging away a Cup last spring. His save percentage through the first eight games is a sparkling .883, good for 38th out of 40 NHL goaltenders.

The encouraging news for Vancouver is Roberto Luongo is signed through only 2022, with an average of about $6.7 million a year through 2018.

Hawks fans should hope to see Luongo on Sunday and not Cory Schneider, who was 12th in the NHL at .927 through five games. He's the better goaltender right now and probably was a year ago, but the Canucks didn't have the guts to play the right guy.

Of course, gutless is synonymous with Canucks.

While headhunter Raffi Torres has taken his dangerous talents to Southern Arizona, the rest of your favorite meatheads are still on the roster.

Last spring's first-round series that featured Torres trying to end Brent Seabrook's career, also saw the ultratough Kevin Bieksa run away from John Scott and then creep up from behind and jump noted brawler Viktor Stalberg.

There was Ryan Kesler leaving his feet and slamming Patrick Kane's head into the glass, and Alex Edler's sick elbow to Troy Brouwer's noggin.

Dave Bolland's not likely to forget Dan Hamhuis targeting his head with Bolland having just returned from a concussion.

Still on board the thug parade is Aaron Rome, who ended Nathan Horton's season during the Finals, a blindside hit on Horton's head that put Horton in the hospital and Rome in the stands, having received the longest suspension in Stanley Cup Finals history.

The legend of Alex Burrows also grew during the Finals when he added biting to a resume that already included hair-pulling, something Duncan Keith no doubt recalls.

"Typical, pulling hair and biting people. Sort of like a little girl," Bolland said at the time. "Stuff like that isn't meant for hockey. So some of those things have to be taken care of."

Sometimes those things have to be taken care of on the ice when they're not taken care of by the league or by a head coach like Vigneault, who obviously encourages such tactics.

Not shocking for Vigneault. Go to YouTube and you can find Vigneault as a player, coming from out of the picture to jump Al Secord, attempting a classic sucker punch before Secord drove Vigneault to the ice.

As for the Hawks, that miserable series from the spring is one of the main reasons Stan Bowman added size and toughness this summer, a direct result of the legal and illegal abuse the Hawks suffered against Vancouver.

And so here come the Canucks, the same group of whining cheap-shot artists who alternate between diving and slashing when they're not sucker-punching or biting, all while refusing to drop their sticks.

It's early in the season but Sunday night will feature a charged atmosphere that may come as close as any to resembling a playoff buzz at the UC, reminiscent of the Hawks-Stars battles of the '80s.

Yeah, fans have had this one circled on the calendar since the arrival of Dan Carcillo, Jamal Mayers, Sean O'Donnell and Steve Montador.

And they are looking forward to seeing how tough the Canucks are now.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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