VANCOUVER -- The Red Wings and Canucks typically play exceptional, entertaining games.
With two of the League's top teams loaded with skill and eager to control the puck, there has rarely been a shortage in fast-paced hockey full of quality scoring chances and great saves, and Thursday's meeting between No. 1 and 2 in the Western Conference promises more of the same.
“It's always fun to play the good teams,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.
That was again the case when they last met on Dec. 21, but the tone changed after Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall caught Vancouver center Ryan Kesler with his head down. The thunderous open-ice check -- deemed legal both on the ice and by those in charge of supplementary discipline -- added an edge to the rest of the game, starting with Kesler trying to fight Kronwall right after getting up.
Kesler ended up with the only penalty, but the Canucks scored a crucial insurance goal shorthanded after Jannik Hansen wiped out Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard on a partial breakaway. Howard responded by popping up and chasing down a celebrating Hansen, and perhaps a real rivalry was born.
"It's almost become a little bit of a rivalry, really, a lot of emotions out there," Kronwall said, adding he hadn't thought about potential carry over from his hit. "Any time we play Vancouver we know it's going to be a physical game. A lot of times it's more of a playoff character game really, not a lot of room and hard fought."
That last game finished with a knee-on-knee collision between Kesler and Henrik Zetterberg. Afterwards Kesler called out Kronwall for not backing up his hit with a fight, and Howard sounded off about the lack of protection from crease crashers.
"This game is all about emotion and it got a little bit of the best of me last time," Howard said. "It always is (a great game) whenever we play them. Both teams play similar, both want possession of the puck and both make it hard on the opposing goalie and D. Whenever we play here they are always crashing the net and got guys trying to take my sightlines away but it's on me to try and find it out there and not lose sight of the puck."
Kesler, whose job includes doing just that on the Canucks' power play, didn't have much to say on the Kronwall hit now, and expects a spirited but clean game.
"I completely forgot about it until you brought it up again, so that's how much it's on my mind right now," Kesler said of the hit. "I think you expect a hard-fought game, you expect two teams to battle hard and battle clean, that's what you're going to see."
As for Babcock, he couldn't even figure out what the fuss was about.
"I didn't know the game was chippy last time until some of the guys told me about the articles. There was a hit and the guy reacted, that happens in the NHL a lot -- so what?" he said.