CHICAGO -- It's the organization they're patterned after, the organization they're measured against, and now the Chicago Blackhawks will play the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs once again.
Detroit's 3-2 victory Sunday in Game 7 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Anaheim Ducks cemented the matchup. It also gave hockey fans a renewal of one of the NHL's oldest rivalries in the postseason for the first time since the 2009 Western Conference Finals, a series won by Detroit in five games.
The four years between then and now might seem distant, but it's still fresh in the minds of Blackhawks players who were around to experience that 2009 defeat. Now, those players would like some revenge -- starting with captain Jonathan Toews, who was just 20 and in his second NHL season.
"As long as I've been a Blackhawk, we've never beaten them in a playoff series," said Toews, who captained Chicago to the 2010 Stanley Cup in a run that didn't go through the Motor City. "We've only played them once, so we've got to be ready for that. That loss was a long time ago, but we did lose that playoff series. We want to prove ourselves again. I think there is still something to prove there."
There's not much left for the Blackhawks to prove against Detroit in the regular season. Chicago has beaten the Red Wings seven straight times, dating to last season, and holds a 9-0-1 mark against Detroit in the past two seasons. Going further back, the Blackhawks are 13-2-1 against Detroit the past three seasons and 16-5-1 taking it back to the past four seasons.
Chicago goalie Corey Crawford also holds an 11-2-0 career mark against Detroit, including 4-0-0 while starting all four games this season. Still, the Blackhawks weren't about to puff their chests out about their recent regular-season numbers against their oldest rival, especially two days before a playoff series against them begins.
"What happens in the regular season, it just goes to show it doesn't really matter," Toews said of the seventh-seeded Red Wings beating the second-seeded Ducks. "It's whoever goes out there and wants it more and competes harder in the confines of a seven-game series. That's what matters now. That's what matters to us. We know what we've accomplished against [the Red Wings] this year -- and the last couple years -- doesn't mean anything. We've got to go work for it."
Former Red Wings forward Marian Hossa, who signed with the Blackhawks as a free agent the summer after the last Detroit-Chicago playoff clash, sounded a similar tune following practice Monday. Hossa noted that aside from Chicago's 7-1 rout of the Red Wings in Detroit on March 31, the three other games were decided in overtime or shootouts.
Digging deeper into the recent history of the rivalry shows that of the 22 games they've played the last four seasons, nine went past regulation -- five decided in overtime, four in a shootout. Further, 16 of the 22 games were decided by one goal.
"Maybe we had their number during the regular season, but this is different," Hossa said. "When I saw how they played [against Anaheim], they've extremely picked up their game and played well. We will have to be better than we were against Minnesota [in the first round] if we want to win."
Detroit still has Pavel Datsyuk and captain Henrik Zetterberg leading the way, of which the Blackhawks remain acutely aware. Still, much of the Red Wings' roster is driven by inexperienced-but-talented players up front and on the back end, and goalie Jimmy Howard -- though playoff-tested -- wasn't in net the last time Detroit beat Chicago.
Pointing out the Red Wings' potential flaws, however, is not a conversation the Blackhawks are interested in having right now.
"Winning [the Stanley Cup] in 2010 has put us on the map a little bit, but I don't think we're ahead of them in terms of anything," Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith told NHL.com on Monday. "I mean, we're both in the playoffs and we both possess some elite players. Zetterberg and Datsyuk … those are two of the best guys in the League, for sure. I think as an organization, at the end of the day we're still trying to be a lot like them in regards to the way they develop talent and the success they've had over a period of time."
One more way to do that is to beat the Red Wings in the playoffs.
"It's always exciting to play against them," Keith said. "They have a lot of great players and it's always fun playing in Joe Louis Arena, but let's not forget the last time we played these guys in the playoffs they beat us. Playoffs are a different level [that] we need to get to, and we've got our work cut out for us."
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who wasn't thrilled with his team's level of play in the first round, agreed with that assessment. Asked about the way the Blackhawks have owned the rivalry in recent years, Quenneville put the situation in simple terms.
"It's a fresh slate," he said. "It's a new season. We're starting even and clean, and we've got to look at it one day at a time and one game at a time. You look at all the games [against Detroit] this year, discounting the one game, every game was a close game and a tight game and anything could've happened."