After the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks ended their Western Conference Quarterfinal series in six games, they are poised to re-ignite their contentious rivalry in a semifinal series that starts at United Center this week. While, the Detroit Red Wings always will be the more hated rival for Hawks fans, but the Canucks quickly are approaching that level of detest for Hawks players.
"It's getting there," Chicago's Patrick Kane
said after Wednesday's practice. "It started last regular season, when there was a big brawl at the end of a game, and after that we matched up with them in the playoffs. Now every time we play it seems like something interesting happens."
The Hawks are gearing up for whatever this series may bring. They also have a lineup change on tap involving 6-foot-4, 257-pound Dustin Byfuglien moving back to forward after filling in on the blue line for Brian Campbell.
Byfuglien, who wasn't available after Wednesday's practice, brings a big presence in front of Luongo. He also has proven to be an irritant to the Canucks, who lost in six games to the Hawks in last season's Western Conference Semifinals.
"He was a factor in that series (last year)," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "At this time of the year he can be such a factor, and going back to last year he was. Hopefully he can be a presence at the net and be physically doing his thing."
Byfuglien will work on a line with center John Madden and forward Troy Brouwer, likely bumping forward Adam Burish from the active roster. A little more than a year ago, Byfuglien set off a melee against the Canucks during a March 29, 2009 regular-season game at United Center that many say ignited the feud.
After being stopped on a breakaway attempt, Byfuglien whacked Luongo in the head with his gloved left hand. That led to a brawl that included punches thrown, a body slam and even hair-pulling by Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows -- who yanked the locks of Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith
The hard feelings spilled over into last season's Western Conference Semifinals and this season's four regular-season games, which were split. Now, it's time for a playoff rematch. Vancouver is more skilled than a year ago, but the Canucks also can goad teams into taking retaliatory penalties -- something the Hawks must avoid.
"You're out there to win a series," said Kane, who played with Canucks' irritating forward Ryan Kesler in the Olympics. "You're not out here to, you know, beat anyone up or whatever it might be. That's the biggest thing -- just making sure that we want to play to win and nothing else."
That will be Quenneville's biggest concern, as the Hawks are forced to defend a Canucks attack that features dangerous twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Kesler and veteran forward Mikael Samuelsson -- who came over from Detroit in the offseason.
"They can score in a lot of ways," Quenneville said. "They've got more weapons that we have to be aware of and try to prevent, which probably makes for an exciting series. At the same time, I think whoever checks better is probably going to have the better of it." Full go for 'Soupy' --
Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell continues to get more accustomed to game action while the injuries he sustained after a push into the boards by Washington's Alex Ovechkin continue to heal.
Campbell played in the last three games against Nashville, logging 19:08 of ice time in the series-clinching 5-3 win in Game 6. Next up is rival Vancouver.
"It'll be a lot different," said Campbell, who broke his collarbone and a rib on the Ovechkin hit March 14. "Nashville wasn't the most physical series, but (the Predators) don't play that way. They don't go out of their way to hit guys. This series there will be bigger hits and more guys out of play here and there. I wouldn't have said I was ready last week, but now it feels strong." Flick a Bick --
After the Hawks went down 2-1 in the first round, Quenneville shook up his lines and placed late-season call-up Bryan Bickell
on the first line with Jonathan Toews
and Patrick Kane
The Hawks won three straight to clinch the series and the line produced results with the 6-4, 223-pound Bickell doing the dirty work. In this series he will be expected to screen Luongo.
"I know they can protect themselves, but if stuff gets out of hand I'm there behind their backs," Bickell said of Toews and Kane. "I know they can find the back of the net anytime from anywhere, so I just need to do the little things and open the ice up for them." Staying focused --
Goalie Antti Niemi was involved in one of the more humorous moments of the season in Game 5 against Nashville, when the puck got lost in his uniform.
The incident took several minutes to solve, with a referee even digging through his hockey pants at one point looking for it. Still, despite his own chuckles, Niemi tried to stay focused.
"It was funny, but at the same time you can't start to think about it too much because in, like, two minutes you're expected to stop pucks again," he said. "I was laughing when it happened, but in the back of my head I was thinking that I had to get ready to play again."
Author: Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent