When it comes to Blackhawks vs. Red Wings, there are so many elements to the rivalry between the Original Six teams.
To start with, it's a great playoff rematch. They had a great series last season, when both were still playing in the Western Conference.
It's pretty fascinating when you take a closer look at how the Red Wings and Blackhawks are connected.
It all starts with the Red Wings, who have been the standard-bearer with 22 straight years in the playoffs. Detroit has been a model franchise in the NHL during that time. I think for the most part, when you look at the elite franchises in the NHL, you put the Detroit Red Wings at the top of the list.
The Blackhawks, a longtime division rival of Detroit, modeled themselves after the Red Wings. They did it with their style of play, the veterans on their roster, their skill set and even where their players are from. You can see it with the mindset of their team and how they play a 200-foot game on both sides of the puck and a strong possession game. Both teams have great depth, too, and have given all their players a chance to succeed.
It even goes back to Scotty Bowman, who was a big part of the Detroit franchise during their great run in the 1990s. Now Stan Bowman, his son, is the general manager of the Blackhawks, with Scotty serving as a senior adviser. There's a lot of Detroit DNA with the Chicago Blackhawks.
That depth I mentioned has served the Red Wings well this season. They've had a very difficult time with injuries. Jimmy Howard tweaked his knee again Monday night, and they've also been without stars like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Alfredsson. But coach Mike Babcock and his staff have done a really good job of managing that roster. You know they love having their prized prospects developing down in Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League. But this year they've been forced to bring a lot of those kids up, whether it's been Tomas Tatar or Gustav Nyquist or Luke Glendening. They're getting more time in the NHL than they otherwise would, and that isn't all bad for Detroit.
Babcock has talked a lot lately about Glendening, but I've been most impressed with Tatar and Nyquist. I like what they bring to the table, in terms of their skill. It's difficult when you're a young player, especially when you get called up to a good team. You need to get your rhythm and timing because you're playing a different role.
At the same time, as a young player, whenever you get your chance, you've just got to roll with it and do the best you can with whatever role you're in. You never know when you'll get another chance to be in the NHL, so you have to grab that opportunity with both hands. The Red Wings' younger players have done that.
With Chicago, what impresses me most is how there is no letdown with this team. They approach every game the same way, and that's impressive considering they've won the Stanley Cup twice in four seasons. It's really a testament to coach Joel Quenneville and his staff. To me, it also speaks to the leadership on that team -- not just captain Jonathan Toews, but especially him. These guys have played a lot of hockey and have a lot of world-class players who will play this February in Sochi, but they still give it everything they have every game. To me, that's really impressive.
I especially love Corey Crawford. His game just went to a whole other level last year. He made one incredible save when Chicago was down 5-on-3 to the Minnesota Wild during their annual "Circus Trip," which is their longest road trip of the season. It was an unbelievable diving blocker save that signified that he wasn't just going to rely on structure and technique; he was going to react a lot more. Their goalie coach at the time, Stephane Waite, was a big part of that. Then he made a kick save a few weeks ago against Waite's current team, the Montreal Canadiens, that was just as impressive. That shows me he's still got it, even though he was out with an injury. He's played really well since he came back, and I'm not seeing any drop-off with him.
It should all add up to a great game Wednesday featuring arguably the game's best rivalry.