Blackhawks, Ducks Prepare to Reignite Rivalry

In the chase for Western Conference supremacy, the Anaheim Ducks are a familiar foe for the Chicago Blackhawks. The Thursday night match-up at the United Center will come at a time when points are critical if the Blackhawks are to permanently supplant the Central Division and Western Conference leading Minnesota Wild. With the Ducks solidly entrenched as one of the top teams in the Pacific Division, it predicts to be an excellent tilt between two of the league’s elite teams. And why should we expect any less?

History tells us we shouldn’t.

Anaheim’s Accolades

While it has been popular in past seasons to characterize the Anaheim Ducks as underachievers, which could certainly be inferred by the firing of Bruce Boudreau after the team’s first-round loss to the Nashville Predators in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the facts tell a story of a franchise that has experienced ample success since the NHL came out of the lockout to begin the 2005-06 season.

In the 11 completed NHL seasons since the 2005-06 lockout, the Ducks have accomplished the following:

  • 2007 Stanley Cup Champions.
  • 2007 Western Conference Champions.
  • Appeared in 2006 and 2015 Western Conference Finals.
  • Five Pacific Division Titles (2006-07 and four consecutively from 2012-13 through 2015-16).
  • Appeared in Stanley Cup Playoffs 9 of 11 years (did not qualify in 2010 or 2012).

Blackhawks Building a Dynasty

The term ‘dynasty’ is probably one of the most debated concepts in sports, and rightfully so. Whether you believe the modern-day Blackhawks have built a dynasty, are still working to earn that title, or simply don’t care, what cannot be debated are the Chicago Blackhawks’ accomplishments since W. Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz took principal ownership of and became the team Chairman in October 2007.

(Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Following the period in Blackhawks history that I not-so-fondly refer to as ‘the lost decade’, which reflects the span beginning with the 1997-98 season and continuing through the 2006-07 season, the 2007-08 club, under new leadership, began to show tangible signs of what was to come. While the 2007-08 team finished three points out of the final Western Conference playoff spot, the foundation had been laid and the roster was full of future Stanley Cup winners.

The eight seasons to follow (through the completion of the 2015-16 season) would make the Chicago Blackhawks the league’s most successful team of the last decade. Accomplishments include:

  • 2010, 2013, and 2015 Stanley Cup Champions.
  • 2010, 2013, and 2015 Western Conference Champions.
  • Appeared in 2014 Western Conference Finals.
  • Two Central Division Titles (2009-10 and 2012-13).
  • 2012-13 Presidents’ Trophy.
  • Have made Stanley Cup Playoffs in eight consecutive seasons (starting in 2009).

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A Series for the Ages

Despite both franchises experiencing a significant amount of success over the last decade or so, amazingly the two teams never seemed to lock horns come Stanley Cup Playoff time. That is, until the 2015 Western Conference Finals. And lock horns they did.

Few things in sports can compare to a seven-game Stanley Cup Playoff series. And for those of you who recall, this series was no exception. The series played out in the most competitive fashion. Neither team was able to generate more than a one-game lead or string together consecutive victories until Chicago’s game seven triumph.

After Anaheim won game one convincingly, Chicago responded with a triple-overtime victory in game two, which marked the longest game in Chicago’s now 91-year history.

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With the Blackhawks splitting the first two games in Anaheim and capturing home ice, the Ducks responded with a game three victory in Chicago. But Chicago took game four with, you guessed it, a double-overtime victory. Chicago’s second multi-overtime victory of the series, and fourth of the 2015 postseason to that point (which set a new NHL record for multiple-overtime games in one postseason), prompted Ryan Kesler’s “no human” quote.

Game five also went to overtime, thanks to Jonathan Toews heroics late in regulation, but it was Anaheim’s turn to feel the thrill of sudden-death victory. The thrill, however, was short-lived. The Blackhawks proved their mettle, winning games six and seven by multi-goal margins, and would go on to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning and become Stanley Cup champions.

Recollecting the series still gives me chills. I know many Blackhawks fans can empathize. While the fan bases are not traditional rivals, the intensity between the teams was palpable. The angst in Chicago was real. While some fans remained supremely confident, many understood the quality team that Anaheim was. Their play was physical, much more so than Chicago, and at times it felt relentless. It was possibly the most impressive playoff series win that I’ve seen the Blackhawks play, other than perhaps their seven game victory over Detroit in the 2013 Conference Semifinals that required them to erase a 3-1 series deficit.

Positioned for Continued Success

While both clubs are riding a decade worth of success and less than two years removed from an epic Western Conference Final battle, neither is resting on their laurels. Both teams still have their core players performing at an elite level. Ryan Getzlaf, Kesler, and Corey Perry, arguably the Ducks three most accomplished players, are the teams top scorers (in points). The same can be said for Chicago. Toews’ and Patrick Kane’s recent play has been among the most elite we’ve seen in the NHL in recent weeks. Despite being entrenched in the veteran stages of their careers, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson are all still playing at a championship-caliber level.

So when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night, it may not be game seven of the Western Conference Final, but I’d be counting on a playoff-like atmosphere in the Madhouse on Madison. The two teams have forged a history, are accustomed to a high level of success, and playoff positioning is on the line as both have realistic aspirations to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2017.