CHICAGO -- It feels almost predestined that a Stanley Cup Playoffs series between Original Six rivals soon to go their separate ways comes down to one game for bragging rights and the chance to keep playing for hockey's ultimate prize.
The Detroit Red Wings, who are shifting to the Eastern Conference next season, will face the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night at United Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS) in a highly-anticipated Game 7 of a Western Conference Semifinal.
It also comes with a sense of finality to it, considering it will be the last time these Midwestern-based Original Six stalwarts meet in the playoffs without the Stanley Cup at stake.
"Everybody remembers a Game 7, and you look at the tradition and history between the two teams … regular-season games, playoff series, battles, wars, Norris Division series, and it's coming down to a Game 7 to end it," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after his team's morning skate on Wednesday. "It's fitting for an amazing history. Like I said at the [start] of the series, we'd always like to play them going forward every year [in the postseason], but we'll see."
Quenneville wasn't the only guy in the building who felt that way. In fact, there's a feeling around the arena in the hours before puck drop that it just wouldn't have seemed right had this series not come down to a seventh game.
The Red Wings and Blackhawks have clawed at each other for 87 years, played the most head-to-head games in League history and are separated by roughly 280 miles. There's a lot of history recorded, Hall of Fame nominations earned and blood spent between two of the most iconic teams in professional sports.
Now, they're poised to write the next chapter with the rest of the hockey world plopping down on couches all over North America and beyond to watch it unfold.
"All you've got to do is take a look at the jerseys," said Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader, who grew up in Muskegon, Mich., as a big Red Wings fan. "It's all about Original Six and two of the best jerseys in the League. It's the tradition and what each organization is all about. Every time you put on that uniform, you take pride in it."
The Blackhawks don't have any players on their roster from the Chicago area, but they feel the same way about pulling on their sweaters. Some might not like all the attention that games and series between Original Six rivals generate, but the fact of the matter is that people do care about them quite a bit.
Longtime fans on both sides will see more than just Jonathan Toews and Henrik Zetterberg battling in the faceoff circle on Wednesday night. Seeing the winged wheel and Blackhawks logo, for some, will remind them of classic clashes from the past between guys named Hull and Howe, Mikita and Lindsay, Yzerman and Savard.
Figuring out how to win this Game 7 is what players and coaches on both sides will think about on Wednesday, but even some of them can pause to think about the historical significance of the game they're gearing up to play.
"It's the last time we'll be division rivals and in the same conference," Abdelkader said. "If we meet [again], it will be in the Stanley Cup Final, so it'll just be fun going out like this. There's no better way to go out against these guys than in Game 7, in a win-or-go-home game."
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock feels similarly. Like Quenneville, he reflected on the rivalry following Detroit's skate and summed up just why this series finale just feels like it had to happen.
"I like coming in the building [here]," Babcock said. "Their captain (Toews), to me, is what a captain should be. He's respectful of the game and does things right. It reminds me of our franchise in lots of ways, with the guys and the history that's around. I like that part of hockey. When you've been in it a long time and you've had a lot of respect for the game, ‘Original Six' means something to you."
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