Only this time, it's about more than bragging rights or much-needed points in the division standings.
It's about a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.
So when the Detroit Red Wings host the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final on Sunday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena in front of a nationally-televised audience, rest assured that those six games played during the regular season won't even get you a ride on Detroit's People Mover.
"None," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said when asked how much he takes from the fact that the Wings won four of those six aforementioned meetings in 2008-09. "I mean, we know who we are and we know what they do, but it's not exhibition … (the regular-season) games matter because you need some points, but I think we were 3-1 with Anaheim. It doesn't matter. It starts all (on Sunday).
"We're going to be ready and we're going to be prepared and look forward to playing a pretty good Chicago team."
While none of the regular-season matchups were technically more meaningful than the others, it certainly was a special event when these two teams met at Wrigley Field on Jan. 1 in the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Detroit -- aiming to repeat as League champs for the first time since winning back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998 -- won the event by a score of 6-4 in front of a boisterous crowd of 40,818.
North America will be treated again to this "Original Six" matchup on Sunday when the teams begin to determine which will represent the Western Conference in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.
"I thought it was pretty special that we played them in the Winter Classic this year," Babcock said. "I thought that was a really great event -- as good a family event as I've ever been to. Normally, big events are at this time of the year and the pressure's that you don't have your family with you. It's not the same atmosphere. That was a great atmosphere. They've got a real good team. We've had some good battles with them over the last two years. They're going to be a tough opponent, but it should be a lot of fun."
The opposing coach agreed.
"I think it's great for the League, two teams that played in the Winter Classic," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "That was a special day for all of us. We were fortunate to be a part of that."
And with the Red Wings showing no signs of slowing down and the Blackhawks officially back on the map, the Detroit-Chicago rivalry is poised to be one of the best in the sport for years to come.
That's just fine with Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
"I think it's great," said Lidstrom, who became the first European captain to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup in 2008. "When I first started in the League, we had some great battles with the Blackhawks. They reached the Finals in the early '90s, they had tough teams to play against. It's great to get that rivalry again. Since the lockout, they've just been getting better and better. Their younger players are their best players, I believe. They've been getting some experience, and just in these two rounds that they've played so far, they've gained a lot of experience for knowing how to play in the playoffs compared to regular season."
Now, the two will collide, each with hopes of reaching the Stanley Cup Final. For older folks, it will be a reminder of how it was back in the day, when Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe used to battle the likes of Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull several decades ago.
"Two 'Original Six' teams … it's great to be a part of," Detroit forward Kris Draper said. "Detroit-Chicago … there's so much history. When you walk around here, you know you're going to run into Ted Lindsay (and/or) Gordie Howe. You walk into the United Center, they have their legends there as well. It's pretty neat. They're the guys who really started this rivalry and started the traditions in both cities."
Two cities that can't wait for the puck to drop. Two cities that are close enough in proximity where fans can witness games in both Joe Louis Arena and the United Center, if they're in the mood to experience two tremendous atmospheres.
"For the fans, it will be great," Wings goalie Chris Osgood said. "Both cities will be able to travel back and forth. To play Chicago, we're excited about it. We haven't played them (in the playoffs) for a long time. A lot of guys on our team haven't played them in playoffs ever, and likewise for them.
"It's an exciting series. We're a veteran team that's won before, and they're the up-and-coming, young, fast team that's playing fearless hockey right now. It's going to be exciting."Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.
Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Staff Writer