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Blackhawks discount season sweep of Red Wings, ready for last conference fight

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Updated: May 14, 2013 1:39PM

The Blackhawks have won seven straight games against the Detroit Red Wings, including a four-game sweep during the 2013 regular season. Corey Crawford has better numbers against Detroit than any other team. The Hawks finished atop the league standings, while the Red Wings had to scramble over the last week of the season just to qualify for their 22nd straight postseason. The Hawks are the top seed. The Red Wings are the seventh seed.

Is any of that relevant right now, as the teams prepare for an Original Six showdown in the Western Conference semifinals beginning Wednesday at the United Center?

“No, not at all,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We said the same thing about the Minnesota Wild. Doesn’t really matter what happens during the regular season. We saw that in that series.”

Hawks fans were hoping against hope that Detroit would rally from a 3-2 series deficit to beat the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks. For one, the Ducks swept the season series against the Hawks, and posed a serious threat. For another, Detroit seemed a better matchup than San Jose, and would feature games in prime time instead of late night. And lastly, the thought of sending the hated Red Wings to the Eastern Conference next year with one last kick in the hockey pants was too good to pass up.

Well, as always, be careful what you wish for.

While these may not be the dominant Red Wings of a couple years ago, they’re not the seemingly overmatched Red Wings of a couple months ago, either. They’re as talented as ever up front, with two-way standouts Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg leading the way. And they’re as solid in net as ever with Jimmy Howard. But now they’re healthier, with Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson back; they’re more experienced, with a talented young defensive corps getting a crash course in playoff hockey in a very tight seven-game series with Anaheim; and they’re playing their best hockey at the right time — winning their last four games of the season to make the playoffs, then knocking off the favored Ducks in the opening round.

And the Hawks — off since Friday — were watching.

“It’s that same relaxed, patient, experience that they’ve shown in the playoffs, that makes them a tough team to beat,” Toews said. “They’ve got some veteran guys who have won Stanley Cups and they understand what it takes to win during playoff time, and that’s the reason they came out on top. It’s a seven-game series, and no one knows that maybe as good as the Detroit Red Wings, and they showed it in that series against Anaheim.”

Aside from a 7-1 thrashing at Joe Louis Arena on March 31, the Wings played the Hawks tough this year — the other three losses came in two shootouts and an overtime. As always, it was high-intensity, high-speed, end-to-end hockey. The Hawks’ 2-1 win at Detroit on March 3, in which Patrick Kane tied it with 2:02 left in regulation then won it in a shootout, was far and away the most riveting game of a remarkable Hawks season.

After slugging it out with the defensive-minded Wild, the Hawks are just as excited as their fans to be playing the Red Wings.

“They’re two different teams,” Bryan Bickell said. “We had trouble with the Wild at times, but we’re looking forward to opening it up and playing our speed game. It should be fun. It’s more high risk… should be interesting.”

While the Wild and Wings are polar opposites in style of play, the Hawks and Wings are mirror images of each other. In fact, the Hawks were largely built in the image of those dominant Detroit teams of the 1990s and 2000s. Both teams play a high-speed, puck-possession game based on creativity and skill rather than physical, conservative play. And both teams are led by some of the world’s best 200-foot players — Toews and Marian Hossa for the Hawks, Datsyuk and Zetterberg for the Wings.

For Crawford, who has an 11-2-2 record and 1.82 goals-against average in his career against Detroit, it’ll be a lot different than facing the Wild. In fact, it’ll be a lot like facing his own teammates in practice.

“Pretty much, yeah,” he said. “It is a similar style. It’s that puck-possession — fast skaters, move the puck, create offensively.”

The history and passion behind the rivalry isn’t lost on the Hawks. This will be the 16th time the teams have met in the postseason — the Hawks have won eight, but the Wings won the most recent meeting in the 2009 Western Conference finals — and the final one as division and conference rivals before next year’s realignment sends Detroit east.

Everyone expects it to be intense. Everyone expects it to be heated. And everyone expects it to be a whole lot of fun.

Just don’t expect it to be easy.

“You saw what they can do against Anaheim, and Anaheim was seeded a lot higher than them,” Duncan Keith said. “Probably a lot of people, a lot players, a lot of teams underestimated them and thought Anaheim was going to come out of that series — and lo and behold, it’s Detroit. They’re able to find a way, and that’s what makes them a tough opponent.”

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