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Wednesday Night Rivalry

Blackhawks flying thanks to Red Wings

Used rivals' greatness as inspiration to become champions

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

CHICAGO -- Niklas Hjalmarsson still remembers how he felt before his first game against the Detroit Red Wings.

Hjalmarsson, a Chicago Blackhawks defenseman who has won the Stanley Cup three times, hasn't forgotten how his heart rate jumped and his stomach fluttered when he first saw Detroit's lineup.

It was March 11, 2008, and written on a dry-erase board in the visitor's locker room at Joe Louis Arena were the names Lidstrom, Zetterberg and Datsyuk. Hjalmarsson was about to play his seventh NHL game, and his mind raced.

"I remember seeing their lineup," Hjalmarsson said. "You looked at that and said, 'You've got to be ready to play tonight. Otherwise you'll be embarrassed out there.'"

Eight years later that's what opposing teams say about the Blackhawks. They have achieved the goal of becoming just like the Red Wings, whom the Blackhawks will play for the first time this season at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN1).

The roles have reversed. 

"They're a team that's a measuring stick throughout the League with the success they've had in the past several years," goalie Jimmy Howard told the Red Wings website after a 3-2 overtime win at the Dallas Stars on Monday. "It's going to be another tall task."

The task got even taller last week when Chicago made three trades to add four veterans to a lineup that already had surged to the top of the Western Conference. 

The Blackhawks acquired forwards Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann from the Montreal Canadiens to bolster their third line. They traded for defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who will make his Blackhawks debut against the Red Wings. They also traded with the Winnipeg Jets to get left wing Andrew Ladd, who won the Cup with Chicago in 2010 and arguably was the biggest catch prior to the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline.

"Isn't it amazing how they keep adding players?" Howard said. "They got some special way there. They definitely made their team stronger with the additions they made. We're a good team as well. If we go out there and play our game and continue to pay attention to details and not turn pucks over in soft areas, I think we'll be alright."

The Red Wings appear headed to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 25th straight season and still have a lot of talent, including Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. But they haven't won the Cup since 2008.

Still, they're closer to a title compared to where Chicago was when Detroit was dominating the League.

Video: DET@DAL: Datsyuk smacks rebound into net for the win

"For me, playing on a different team for the last six years, I can tell you that everyone was looking at [the Blackhawks] as that group that you wanted to aspire to play like, or have that same type of success," said Ladd, who played for Chicago from 2007-10. "It was the same type of feeling we had [with the Blackhawks] when we played Detroit back then. It was always [Nicklas] Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Those were the staples, and I think they have those staples here," pointing to a core group of forwards Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, and defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

"Those guys have kept the same structure and success going the last six or seven years," Ladd said. "That's kind of how Detroit was too."

Aside from being a team to shoot for, the Red Wings also have contributed to the Blackhawks' rise in a hands-on way. 

Before moving to the Eastern Conference, they defeated the Blackhawks in five games during the 2009 Western Conference Final, a year before Chicago won the first of its three recent Stanley Cup titles. 

"We looked at that series as a lesson learned from a veteran group that knew what they were doing," Ladd said. "They were just a confident group. They were confident that no matter what happened they'd be able to pull through, and the next year we came back and that was the biggest thing [for us winning]. There just seemed to be no panic in them and I think we used that the next year."

The Blackhawks still reflect on that series, and it worked to their advantage against the Red Wings in 2013, when they battled back from a 3-1 deficit to win a second-round series.

The win felt like more than just a series victory to Chicago's core group, which never forgot what it felt like seeing those Detroit lineups on the dry-erase board. Defeating Detroit in a tough playoff series was a major milestone.

"For sure that was definitely the goal, to achieve [Detroit's success]," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think everybody would love, all 29 teams would love, to play in the playoffs every single year with a chance of winning the Cup as the motivation. In the perfect world we'd all like to do that, and that was definitely the motivation. Achieving it ... we're very happy with the way things have developed here over that time."

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