– Following Thursday's practice at the United Center, Chicago Blackhawks
forward Daniel Carcillo
ran through the standard checklist of reasons the Detroit Red Wings
are so tough.
Carcillo, who signed with Chicago as a free agent this past summer, has never faced the Wings as a member of the Hawks. He has, however, played them before and can read a scouting report.
"You know what you get with Detroit," said Carcillo, who's returning after missing six games with an upper-body injury. "You get a puck-possession team and they have great defense and their goalie's playing well and obviously their forwards are some of the best in the League. You have to be on your game."
Carcillo was then told that scouting report sound an awful lot like one for the Hawks.
"Yeah," Carcillo said, smiling a big toothless grin. "We're pretty good."
Actually, Chicago is better than pretty good.
The Hawks (23-10-4) are just two seasons removed from winning the 2010 Stanley Cup and are currently sitting atop the League with 50 points. Their opponent Friday night, the Wings (23-12-1), are three points back as they come to the Windy City for the first of six key games between the old Original Six rivals.
"Even though we've had some ups against them in the regular season, we've never beaten them in the playoffs. So, it's always fun to keep proving ourselves in games like (Friday)."
-- Patrick Kane
It's not like it used to be for Detroit, which fattened up on the Hawks at almost every opportunity. Now, the Hawks have arrived as an organization and got here by mimicking the path that took the Wings to the League's summit.
The Hawks have one of the best young core groups of stars in the League. They've already claimed the NHL's ultimate prize. And now, they've got their eyes fixated on doing it again. Only this time, they wouldn't mind going through the Wings.
You see, it's no longer good enough for the Blackhawks to just match or beat the Red Wings in the regular-season series – something they've done three of the past four seasons for a 14-9-3 mark against Detroit.
Chicago has simply come too far from the years when Detroit fans would far outnumber Hawks fans at the Madhouse on Madison.
"Ever since I've been here, we've maybe beat them in the regular season and obviously lost (to them) in the (2009) playoffs, but we've never really dominated them or got the chance to say that we're officially a better team than them," said 23-year old Patrick Kane
, who scored the winning goal in overtime of Game 6 in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final but dreams of ending the Wings' season someday. "Even though we've had some ups against them in the regular season, we've never beaten them in the playoffs. So, it's always fun to keep proving ourselves in games like (Friday)."
It hasn't always been fun.
In fact it was pretty miserable for Chicago before Kane, Hawks captain Jonathan Toews
and center Dave Bolland
arrived as regulars in the 2007-08 season. Between the years 2005 and 2007 the Hawks went an unsavory 2-13-1 against the Wings – which was not only rock-bottom, but also a turning point.
Kane and Toews instantly added two stars to the lineup while Bolland and some other homegrown prospects added some grit for a quick infusion of talent. The Hawks also had a collection of young talent already on the roster -- defensemen Duncan Keith
, Brent Seabrook
and Dustin Byfuglien
plus forwards like Patrick Sharp
, Kris Versteeg
, Troy Brouwer
and Adam Burish
-- that was just coming into its own.
The Hawks quickly narrowed the talent gap and also added some impact help from the outside by acquiring Marian Hossa
and former Hawks Brian Campbell
and Tomas Kopecky
Many of those names have moved on because of the League's hard salary cap, but the core group remains -- and hasn't forgotten how far they've come.
Each time they play Detroit now, they're reminded.
"In the early going, they beat up on us a lot and now we've kind of evened the ground a little bit and it's fun to have those battles," Sharp said. "(Detroit's) a team that … I don't want to say we look up to, but kind of modeled ourselves after. We were all young kids … Duncs, Seabs and I. Then Kane and Toews started. We were getting beaten 6-1 every time we played those guys. Now it's a fun rivalry."
It's also a much different rivalry than the one the Hawks have with the Vancouver Canucks
That one is bitter all the way around -- on and off the ice. Hawks fans might feel as much hatred toward the Wings as they do the Canucks, but the Hawks themselves don't.
To the players, this is more of a classic Original Six rivalry based more on matching skill for skill.
"They both have a different feel, that's for sure," Sharp said. "I think the game (Friday) is going to be the most exciting game of the year. The fans are going to be into it. It's a Friday night game at home. Those ones are fun to play in and easy to get up for. It's just two good teams going at it."
The Wings feel the same way.
"It's an absolute blast, from the beginning of the national anthem all the way through," said Wings goalie Jimmy Howard
, who will get his third full slate of regular-season games against the Hawks. "The crowd's usually going nuts. I thoroughly enjoy it.''
He also keeps a close eye on Chicago, both in the standings and on television. That never used to be the case before the Hawks' revival.
"You watch them every morning on NHL on the Fly and you watch clips on them," Howard said. "You can see they're just firing on all cylinders. It doesn't matter what the score is in the game, whether they're down or they're up, they keep pouring it on. We're going to have our work cut out for us all game.''
The past nine months seem like it's been even longer for the Hawks and Wings – who've usually faced each other once or twice by this point in the season. The last time they met in the regular season, in April, Detroit nearly ended Chicago's Stanley Cup title defense short of the playoffs on the season's final day.
The Wings also spoiled the Hawks' home opener last season, when the 2010 Cup banner was raised to the rafters before the game. In between those two wins, Detroit dropped four straight to the Hawks – which was fitting for where this rivalry stands.
The Hawks might be the younger version of the Wings, but the guys with the Winged Wheel on their chests still haven't lost to Chicago in the postseason for many years. It's the last remaining hurdle for the Hawks and they're eager to try clearing it again.
"That's one way to look at it," Sharp said. "I look back to the first year we had that playoff run (in 2009). We had such a good run and then we run into Detroit and they knock us out. That's a bitter taste, not only to lose but to lose against our rival. We were able to win a Cup, but I think playing the Wings in a playoff series would be a lot of fun."
Until then, games like Friday night's will have to suffice.