The Rise and Fall of the Blackhawks / Canucks Rivalry

In past seasons, there was a persistent and pervasive hatred between the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks. Fans around the league recognized the rivalry, but more importantly, the players perpetuated it. Games between the two teams were not only a demonstration of palpable on-ice vitriol, but also of fantastic, skill-oriented hockey – an increasingly rare sight in a league slogging gradually back to its mundane pre-2004 form.

The Birth of Blackhawks / Canucks Rancor

Blackhawks Canucks Rivalry
(cr: P. Rodriguez/THW)

How appropriate that Dustin Byfuglien – a player that Canucks fans would rapidly come to hate – was in large part responsible for catalyzing this powerful (albeit ephemeral) rivalry.
It was late March in the 2008-09 season. The Blackhawks were on the cusp of the organization’s first playoff appearance since 2002, and were thus looking to finally unburden themselves of the specter of Bill Wirtz’s apathy. A matchup at home against Vancouver was next on the schedule, magnified in importance largely because both teams were fighting for home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
So, naturally, Blackhawks players’ tempers ran high in Chicago when the Canucks ran away with the game like runningbacks against the 2013 Bears defense.
This was the result.

Occurring for no good reason other than there being many emotional, large human beings in a small place at the same time, this was the genesis of inter-team hatred that lasted for several years. This hostility would prove to be an ultimate source of immense satisfaction for Blackhawks and Canucks fans… at different times, of course.

Stoking the Fire: Blackhawks / Canucks 2009 Playoff Series

There were not any line brawls this time around; instead, fans were treated to some of the most fluid, dynamic playoff hockey that the NHL had seen since its most recent attempt (at the time) to completely alienate its fans.
Some notable moments:
If Willie Mitchell doesn’t botch a fairly easy clearing attempt (2:30), the Blackhawks likely face a 3-1 series deficit after this game.
Thank you, Willie Mitchell. You’re a prince.

Whether you’re a Blackhawks or Canucks fan, this game was outrageous.
I imagine Vancouverite sentiment regarding all things Chicago was not exactly helped by confronting the enduring image of Patrick Kane celebrating a hat trick at center ice all summer long (5:43).
Inevitably, Blackhawk fans felt “superior” to their Canucks counterparts in light of their team’s playoff triumph.
The dislike among the players was already obvious.
The dislike among the fans only intensified.

The Machinations of Dustin Byfuglien: Blackhawks / Canucks 2010 Playoff Series

Frankly, this series was a mess; it was one blowout after another, and yet it retained fantastic entertainment value all the same – for Blackhawks fans, that is. All but one of the six games were decided by a margin of at least three goals.
The second game of the series was a must-win for Chicago after Vancouver dominated Game 1. Blackhawk fans were quite happy, then, when…

The real story of this particular series, however, was the emergence of Dustin Byfuglien. He took off with a hat-trick in Game 3 and in general was the cause of short-term mass derangement in British Columbia.

Few thoughts on the above:
1. His second goal (0:42) single-handedly increased Vancouver’s hate for everything Chicago by about 273.6%.
2. The refs were clearly taking a nap when Byfuglien bowled over Luongo to notch the hat-trick (1:37).
Fittingly, the last goal in the series-deciding Game 6 made it 5-1 – an unmistakable blowout once again.
The goal was scored by Byfuglien.
Safe to say that dislike directed the Blackhawks’ way had never been stronger… until a few weeks later, that is, when Chicago won the Stanley Cup and Byfuglien did this.
For Blackhawks fans and players alike, it was difficult not to develop a superiority complex.
Beautifully, the mutual hatred deepened further.

An Exorcism: Blackhawks / Canucks 2011 Playoff Series

Patrick Sharp vs Roberto Luongo : APR 15 Western Conference Quarterfinals - Blackhawks at Canucks - Game 2
Your eyes are not deceiving you. Patrick Sharp did not blast this twenty feet over the net like he usually does. No photoshop involved here, I promise.
Moving on…
Surprisingly, I’m not the first one to use the word “exorcism” to refer to this rivalry (1:00 mark in video below).
Really, though. “Exorcism?” Aren’t sports the greatest?

After what seemed like an eternity of coming up on the losing side, Vancouver finally topped Chicago.
This would ultimately be the final edition of the Blackhawks / Canucks consecutive yearly springtime playdate. Of the three series the teams played, this was inarguably the most even.
There was bulletin-board material – which, incidentally, had the bizarre effect of motivating the team with the player who provided it.
There was drama:

Just Raffi Torres being his typical self.
And then some more drama after that.
Then – you might be able to guess – there was still more.

So we were off to a Game 7, which of course went to overtime because Blackhawks / Canucks.
Yes, because Blackhawks / Canucks. There is no more appropriate way to put it.
What better end to a fantastic series could these two teams have possibly given us?
The theater, of course, didn’t end after Vancouver’s over-the-top celebration to their first-round victory. For one, Burrows’ overtime goal came off a terrible turnover that on its own effectively blacklisted Chris Campoli from the Blackhawks roster. Yes, this is the same Chris Campoli we all hold dear; the same guy who was one of the biggest contributors from the players’ union to that 2012 fiesta hockey fans universally loved.

This marked the beginning of a precipitous decline in the intensity of the Blackhawks / Canucks rivalry. The raw absurdity and unpredictability of this series helped make up for the absence of certain Chicago players (like Byfuglien) who had previously played a large role in pre-2011 games between the two teams, but the passage of time as well as the inevitability of roster change began to mitigate the ferocity of a once-immense reciprocal animus.
Nevertheless, there was still a bit of juice left.

March 21st, 2012, Or When Duncan Keith Misplaced His Brain

I haven’t exactly kept my disdain for this hit to myself.
Still, it fueled the Blackhawks / Canucks loathing train for a while longer… although it was largely illusory.
The culmination came on February 1st, 2013, in a game in Vancouver – the first between the two teams since Keith’s predatory hit.
It was talked up (mostly by fans) as a “revenge” game.
Nothing happened.
It was about as conspicuous a sign of a dying rivalry as one can imagine.
Both the Blackhawks and Canucks played without any of the extra emotion that had so often accompanied past games between the two.
Henrik Sedin had talked to his team well before the game about staying disciplined and under control.
Discipline? Control?
They are words that describe the polar opposite of the rivalry we loved.
A pity.

State of the Blackhawks / Canucks Rivalry Today

It no longer exists.
The teams have matched up twice in the 2013-14 season, and each game was about as eventful and entertaining as watching the present shell of the Chicago Bulls.
Perhaps another playoff series would rekindle the fire, but the chance of having one is remote in light of the new postseason format as well as there being a number of Western Conference teams that are simply superior to Vancouver.
Consider everything together, and you will reach the same disappointing conclusion as I: The Blackhawks / Canucks rivalry has faded into the fog, and it isn’t coming back.

Follow Sean Sarcu on Twitter: @seansarcu