'Big game' when Blackhawks face Blues
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Tampa Bay Lightning's Tyler Johnson, left, and Chicago Blackhawks' Nick Leddy (8) vie for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Chicago, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Back in the days of the old Norris Division, the Blackhawks' two biggest rivals were the Minnesota North Stars and the St. Louis Blues, in that order.
Rivalries are built in the playoffs, and the Hawks played the Blues eight times from 1980-93 and the North Stars six times from 1982-1990.
Those teams hated each other.
No longtime Hawks fan will ever forget Minnesota's Dino Ciccarelli, Shane Churla or Basil McRae, or the Blues' Glen Featherstone and Harold Snepts.
Only later did the Detroit Red Wings enter the picture as a rival. The Vancouver Canucks became a rival thanks to three straight meetings in the playoffs from 2009-11.
Now with realignment and Detroit moving to the Eastern Conference, the focus is back on the Hawks and Blues as rivals. They meet Wednesday night at Scottrade Center in an early-season Central Division showdown.
"This is a big game with St. Louis," said Hawks left wing Bryan Bickell. "We feel they're our new rival with Detroit leaving our division. It's always a physical game.
"It should be an exciting game with a playoff-like atmosphere. They're physical and a hard team to play against in their building."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville stopped short of calling the Blues the Hawks' chief rival.
"There's definitely a rivalry there," he said. "You feel it in the buildings and in the stands. When you play St. Louis you have to be ready to play a hard game.
"There are no easy shifts. You've got to be willing to come up with loose pucks and go to the front of the net and not be distracted in where you have to go to be successful."
In other words, the Blues are brutally physical and try to win that way.
"I like games like that," said left wing Brandon Bollig, who hails from the St. Louis area. "They're better for me to be in. They definitely have a rough-and-tough team, a big, physical team. The way our teams match up, they're always intense games.
"I would say that they're definitely our biggest rival."
After starting the season with 2 wins, the Blues will be looking to test themselves against the defending Stanley Cup champion Hawks.
"There's always a target on our jerseys this year, and we just have to go into every game like we did last year and compete and work for one another," center Andrew Shaw said. "I'm always excited to play in these games."
Winger Patrick Kane is looking forward to rekindling the rivalry with St. Louis.
"These are games you get up for, especially on the road against St. Louis," Kane said. "You know they're going to be ready to play against us. For us, we want to make sure we go in there and play a playoff-type game and be simple, be smart and play physical. Take the physicalness to them like they try to do to us.
"As far as a rivalry, that usually comes from the fans' standpoint. In the locker room our biggest rivalry is probably Vancouver for the past few years. If another team comes up and takes that Detroit spot, we'll make it what it is."
Winger Patrick Sharp said he could see the Blues replacing the Red Wings and Canucks as the Hawks' prime rival because the series has a little bit of everything.
"This one is a pretty good one on the ice," Sharp said. "There's some bad blood, good players on both sides that challenge each other, and both teams are well coached.
"There's so much made of the Detroit-Chicago rivalry, but I wouldn't really say we hate the Red Wings as much as we probably should. Teams like the Blues and Canucks, those are more of the Hawks' rivalries these days."
•Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.
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