Rivalry becomes casualty with Wings' move to East

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Judging by fans’ reaction the Red Wings’ move back to the Eastern Conference has been a huge success.

Everybody loves the Red Wings in the East.

But there is one thing most everyone misses from the Red Wings’ days in the Western Conference.

Everybody misses those games against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Which made Wednesday’s game at Joe Louis Arena against the longtime Original Six rival so anticipated, Chicago’s only visit to Joe Louis Arena all regular season.

Because the teams are now in opposite conferences, the Red Wings and Blackhawks only play twice a season.

The second game, incidentally, is Sunday at the United Center, a back-to-back, though there are three days in between.

“It’s one of those things in the schedule when you only play each other twice, sometimes it can be the whole season before you actually get to see each other, and then twice within a week,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “That’s a little bit of a quirk in the schedule. But it’s always exciting to play them.”

What makes these games so special for Blashill is the history of the two Original Six organizations.

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Detroit's defenseman Niklas Kronwall, left; and forward Tomas Tatar battle for the puck with Chicago's Michael Liambas during an exhibition game in September.

Both have been successful recently, and their fan bases are intensely loyal.

“These have been two of the best franchises in the last two decades, and the history goes much beyond that,” Blashill said. “It’s awesome. I recognize that it’s not just any team, it’s the Chicago Blackhawks, and we’re just not any team, we’re the Detroit Red Wings, and it should be great (games).”

Dynasties are rare in pro sports these days, but the Blackhawks can make the case they are one.

Chicago has won three of the past six Stanley Cups, including defeating Tampa Bay in six games last season.

The Blackhawks showed they deeply want to repeat, making several bold trades to strengthen their roster with the acquisition of forwards Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann along with defenseman Christian Ehrhoff at the trade deadline.

“Isn’t it amazing how they keep adding players?” Howard said. “They got some special way there. They definitely made their team stronger with the additions they made.

“They’re a team that’s a measuring stick throughout the league with the success they’ve had in the past several  years.”

Howard added how these two games could be a good measuring stick for the Red Wings against the defending Stanley Cup champions - and Blashill agreed.

“It’s a great challenge, they have guys offensively who do a great job of transitioning from defensive zone to offense,” Blashill said. “They do a great job of  making something out of nothing. They are a very well-rounded team.”

Fans of both teams dream about the potential of a Stanley Cup Final series between the teams now, obviously, since they are no longer both in the Western Conference.

The teams met in the 2013 Western Conference Final with the Blackhawks rallying from a 3-1 series deficit to win Game 7 in overtime.

“A great, great series,” forward Gustav Nyquist said. “Obviously, we got to know a lot of those players over the course of that series, and a lot of those players are still there.”

The chance to play Chicago was an opportunity for Brad Richards to say a few hellos to former teammates he won a Stanley Cup with last season.

Richards signed a one-year contract with the Red Wings in July.

“Obviously it will be a little different seeing some guys you won with a year later,” Richards said. “But that’s part of the business now.

“It’ll be a lot different going to Chicago, but it’s fun to play them.”