This group of Blackhawks — including Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — has never beaten the Detroit Red Wings when it truly counted.
It counts now.
The Hawks and Red Wings start their Western Conference semifinal series on Wednesday night at the United Center in their first playoff meeting since the 2009 West finals, which Detroit won in five games.
The Red Wings also beat the Hawks in the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field with the whole hockey world watching.
The Hawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, but they didn’t have to beat the Red Wings along the way.
“I thought every time we played them it counted,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “When I say that, it’s always an important game. The rivalry, the standings, 4-point swings — the games were always meaningful for us. And I’m sure they were for them.
“In playoffs, it brings a different type of intensity and meaning, which I think we’re talking about here.”
The Hawks have owned the Red Wings of late, sweeping the four-game season series this year and winning seven in a row.
“As long as I’ve been a Blackhawk, we’ve never beaten them in a playoff series,” Toews said. “What happens in the regular season, it doesn’t really matter. It’s whoever goes out there and wants it more and competes more.
“That’s what matters now. That’s what matters to us. What we’ve accomplished against them this year and in previous years doesn’t mean anything.”
What will it take for the Hawks to beat Detroit and advance to the Western Conference finals? It’s going to take a combination of things, starting with strong goaltending, discipline and good defensive play.
Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard isn’t Josh Harding or Darcy Kruemper.
The Hawks caught a break in the first round when Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota’s No. 1 goalie, suffered a sports hernia before Game 1 began.
That pushed backup Harding into service and, later in the series, Kruemper. They proved to be no match for the high-powered Hawks offense.
Howard played great in the final two games of the Anaheim series in Round 1 when the Red Wings had to win, and he is capable of stealing this series.
Corey Crawford was the Hawks’ best player in the first round against the Wild and has played some of the best games against Detroit.
“Corey will be the first to tell you it’s all about what happens from here,” Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said.
The Hawks got plenty of offensive support in the first round from Bryan Bickell, Michael Frolik, Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger.
Bickell had a great series against Minnesota, scoring 3 goals, including the Game 1 winner in overtime. He also was physical.
“He had a real good series,” Quenneville said. “His size and physicality were noticeable. I thought he was influential in a lot of turnovers, he helped us with zone time and scored some timely goals. He’s the kind of guy who flies under the radar during the course of the year, but those guys and secondary guys sometimes all of a sudden jump up come playoff time.”
The Red Wings’ role players also played important roles against the Ducks in the first round with Damian Brunner getting the winning goal in overtime in Game 4, and Justin Abdelkader scoring a big short-handed goal in Game 7.
“Everybody talks about (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg, but they’ve had other guys step up, too,” Keith said.
Staying out of the penalty box will be vital for the Hawks if they want to win this series.
The Detroit power play ranked sixth in the league at home during the regular season and can be lethal, as the Red Wings proved in the first round by scoring six times against Anaheim.
“Their power play is very dangerous, and we’ve got to be aware of that,” Quenneville said. “Discipline is going to be key against this team because they’re a smart group as well. We’re going to have to be on our game in all facets.”
The Red Wings spent most of the regular season trying to make up for the loss of Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired.
They finished fifth in the NHL in team goals-against average, which is a credit to Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith and Kyle Quincey.
Detroit’s top defense pair of Kronwall and Ericsson helped limit Anaheim’s big guns in the first round. Corey Perry failed to score a goal.
“It’s always great games against Chicago,” Kronwall said. “They have four lines that are all rolling and can all score. It will be a good test for our group. But at the same time I think we’ve been coming together more and more and better and better, especially over these last few games.”
Danny DeKeyser was signed late in the season out of Western Michigan University and was having an impact until he broke his thumb late in the season.
Can the Red Wings’ defense, which some consider patchwork and mistake prone, handle the Hawks’ speedy forwards?
That could be the biggest key to the series.
ŸFollow Tim’s hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.