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Wings welcome Windy City rivalry

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

DETROIT – Brett Lebda is tired of it already.

The Red Wings defenseman, who up 35-miles northwest of Chicago, has had his eardrums blistered by friends and family for the outcome of three games against the Blackhawks this season.

Lebda’s younger brother, Eric, has been the biggest irritant.

“It’s really irritating me,” said Lebda, laughing. “We really want to get the win tomorrow night.”

In three pervious games against Chicago this season – all one-goal decisions -- the Wings are 0-3 against their Central Division foes.

The hockey culture in Chicago – and throughout the Central Division -- has changed this season. The Wings can no longer count on collecting two easy points each time they face off against Nashville, St. Louis, Columbus and Chicago.

The Wings (13-4-1) are 2-3-1 against Central opponents.

And after the near sellout crowd at United Center witnessed the Blackhawks’ 3-2 win over the Wings, some are talking about a newly revitalized rivalry between the two Original Six franchises.

“It’s the same thing that we talked about with Nashville last year when they were good,” Lebda said. “They are an a merging team and they’re playing real well right now. People start talking about rivalries and I think it just develops through two good teams playing each other. As it goes, we play each other eight times this year and we want to get a win against them, and that’s our focus – tomorrow night.”

In the second game of the season, the Wings took a 3-1 lead into the third period at the United Center. But the Blackhawks completed their comeback when 18-year old rookie Patrick Kane scored the game-winner in the shootout.

Less than a week later, the Wings built a 2-0 lead against Chicago at Joe Louis Arena. The Hawks bounced back to win, 3-2, on the power of two power play goals, including the game-winner by former Wing Robert Lang.

“There’s nothing to explain,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “The first game we played them, we were in the driver’s seat and we didn’t finish, and I think the same with the second game. The last game, they just beat us. Their power play just got to our penalty kill. You have to play well in our division to win as you can see. And we haven’t been as good, except in the Columbus game, since we came back from our road trip. We just haven’t been as smooth and haven’t played with enough energy.”

Chicago’s remarkable resurgence is due in part to the addition of teenage rookies Kane and Jonathan Toews – the 1-2 punch that sit atop the league’s rookie scoring list with 22 and 15 points respectively.

“They’re good players,” Babcock said. “They’re intelligent players and they’ve suddenly now put with (Tuomo) Ruutu and there’s no fall off.”

Riding the coat tails of four consecutive losing seasons, a Blackhawks’ revival could spark a new Detroit-Chicago rivalry. But for some of the Wings, a playoff series against Chicago would help facilitate a new rivalry with the Windy City.

“Certainly that’s when rivalries mean the most,” Wings center Kris Draper said. “Whenever you’re playing a division or conference rival and you go against them in the playoffs, it certainly takes it to the next level. We’re 0-3 against them so, we know that we have to play them five more times, and it’s10 points out there, so we have to get things going. Chicago has had our number. You have a lot of pride and want to say that you can beat anybody in the league, but right now we haven’t been able to do that against Chicago.”

NOTEBOOK: Goalie Chris Osgood missed Friday’s practice at Joe Louis Arena. Babcock indicated that Dominik Hasek will get the start against Chicago on Saturday.

“Hopefully he’s ready to go shortly,” said Babcock of Osgood. “But at this point we really don’t know. It sounds like he has the flu.”





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