DETROIT -- One can certainly understand that veteran defenseman Chris Chelios has mixed feelings about the 2009 Western Conference Final.
It's been 14 years since his native Chicago Blackhawks have reached this point -- a historic fact that will change when the puck drops in Game 1 on Sunday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena against the Detroit Red Wings.
His Detroit Red Wings.
"I think Chicago being one of the bigger-market cities, I think it's huge for the NHL," said Chelios, who grew up in nearby Buffalo Grove, Ill. "It's been a while since they created that atmosphere there again. It's great to see … it really is. I've always said it was a shame what happened there. They've been through some tough years … 9 or 10 of them. You can keep saying that it was bound to happen, but that's not true. They made some great moves."
The two biggest came in 2006 and 2007, when the Blackhawks drafted Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, respectively. The duo has played a huge role in Chicago's run to the Western Conference Final, as Kane enjoyed his first postseason hat trick in the Blackhawks' series-clinching victory against the Vancouver Canucks in Round 2. He has 12 points in 11 games, while Toews -- Chicago's captain -- has 10 points in 12 contests.
Now, it's up to Detroit to try and stop them.
"Toews, to me, he's the guy you need to have for your franchise," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "He's a guy who is going to play two ways and will your team to success. Kane's the guy that can handle in a phone booth. How can a guy that size go into traffic like he does and never get touched? To me, he's a fantastic, exciting player."
But the renaissance doesn't end with Toews and Kane. Chicago also boasts a tremendous young defense with the likes of Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Cameron Barker. Brian Campbell -- who signed a mega free-agent deal with the club last summer -- has 9 points in 12 games and provides leadership on the blue line. Veteran goalie Nikolai Khabibulin has posted a 2.76 goals-against average and an 8-4 record. A little more than four months ago, Chicago hosted the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against these Red Wings at historic Wrigley Field.
Indeed, the Blackhawks have made huge strides in the past few years. And now, they're four wins away from a Stanley Cup Final and have the Windy City's full attention.
They have Detroit's, too.
"I think as the season started, you could see the city of Chicago really just attach to this team, and it just kept going," Wings forward Dan Cleary said. "When that building's full, it's obviously real loud. They've gotten behind the team, and they've got a good team. The Winter Classic was pretty cool. The city was really alive. They've gotten better as the season's gone on."
Calgary and Vancouver found that out the hard way, just as Columbus and Anaheim learned that Detroit is determined to repeat as Stanley Cup champion.
Now, the teams collide in an "Original Six" matchup to determine the Western Conference champ.
"I think it's great for the game and it’s great for the League," Wings forward Kris Draper said. "To have a Detroit-Chicago matchup … it's going to be fun."
Just like it was when Chelios followed his Blackhawks as a kid. Now, at 47, his Red Wings will try to halt Chicago's tremendous playoff run.
"It's a great rivalry," said Chelios, who played nine seasons for the Blackhawks from 1990-91 until being dealt to Detroit in March of 1999. "I think everybody's looking forward to seeing something like this. It should be a really good, exciting series."
A reporter then asked Chelios how many ticket requests he expects to receive during this best-of-seven series. The two-time Norris Trophy had a message for those looking for prime seats for this super showdown.
"I'm going to announce it now … I hope there are some Chicago people here," Chelios bellowed. "If you want tickets, you're on your own. I'm not getting any tickets for anybody.
"Except you, Mom and Dad."
Contact Brian Compton at: firstname.lastname@example.org.