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Blues likely to be Blackhawks’ next big rivalry

St. Louis Blues v Chicago Blackhawks

St. Louis Blues v Chicago Blackhawks

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Updated: November 9, 2013 6:17AM



The NHL’s realignment was
designed with two goals in mind — to move the Detroit Red Wings to the Eastern Conference and to foster more heated division rivalries.

Thing is, for the Blackhawks, those are mutually exclusive.

So the Hawks have opened the 2013-14 season with their most storied rival in another conference and their most hated rival — the Vancouver Canucks — almost a non-factor with the retro divisional playoffs system.

That’s bad for fans, and it’s bad for the Hawks. Because even for pro athletes who cling to the standard one-game-at-a-time and your-next-game-is-the-most-important-game clichés, rivalry games are different. A lethargic crowd in a run-of-the-mill game might not hurt a player, but a juiced crowd in a big game certainly helps.

‘‘I love playing in those rivalry games,’’ center Andrew Shaw said. ‘‘I love playing against Detroit and Vancouver. They’re both great teams, and I feel I play better when I play better teams. It’s always exciting going into those nights, knowing it’s going to be a loud crowd and that there’ll be a lot of big hits out there.’’

Enter the St. Louis Blues. Traditional rivals who always have taken a back seat to the Red Wings, the Blues are poised to become the Hawks’ new nemeses for years to come. They’re geographically close but stylistically far apart — the big, bruising Blues against the skilled, offensive Hawks. And with divisional playoffs (the first two rounds of the postseason will be confined within the divisions, with the potential exception of a wild-card team
being moved from one division to the other to even out the brackets), they’re likely to see each other in the spring — where
rivalries truly are created — more often than not for the foreseeable future.

So the Hawks’ game Wednesday in St. Louis might be the start of something big.

‘‘When you play teams enough, you create that bad blood,’’ said Brandon Bollig, a St. Louis-area native who always has the Blues circled on his calendar. ‘‘And they have a good, rough and tough team that people are high on right now. So it’s going to be a good matchup, and I’m sure we’ll have great games all year.’’

It helps that the Blues are possibly the biggest threat to a Hawks repeat. They bolstered one of the best defenses in the league by adding Jay Bouwmeester and
Jordan Leopold late last season, then signed veteran forwards Brenden Morrow and Derek Roy during the offseason. Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak form one of the top goalie tandems in the league. They usually don’t score a lot, but they usually don’t have to. Through two games this season, they’ve
given up only two goals.

So with division games mattering more than ever, games against the Blues matter that much more.

‘‘They’re more valuable, standings-wise,’’ said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, who used to coach the Blues. ‘‘We’re going to be looking at St. Louis knowing this could be a very important game the way things could set up over the course of a season. I’m sure they’re excited about playing us, as well.’’

Winger Patrick Kane said players don’t seek out rivalries the way fans and media do. But in a long, sometimes monotonous season with 32 games against Eastern Conference teams and 21 against Pacific Division teams, the Hawks would be happy to have the Blues — or anyone else, for that matter — step into the rivalry void and shake things up from time to time.

‘‘It’s not like you don’t look forward to each game, but there are definitely a few you have your eye on and you’re excited for,’’ Bollig said. ‘‘They help break up the season a little bit, and they mean a little more.’’

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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