There is an old adage that suggests rivalries are born in the playoffs, and the Detroit Red Wings’ history with the St. Louis Blues in the mid-to-late 90’s certainly seems to back that statement up. What was always a contentious battle between 2 divisional opponents came to the forefront during the Western Conference Semifinals of the 1995-96 playoffs. The hard-fought series culminated in a game 7 stalemate, leading to a double overtime ending that my words cannot do justice to.
If that video didn’t give you chills, you must be a Blues fan. This nail-biting conclusion in a 0-0 double overtime game has gone down as one of the most memorable goals in Red Wings history. It also further sparked a heated rivalry, and one that was rejuvenated in playoff meetings for the next 2 seasons, both of which saw the Red Wings come out on top. After 3 seasons of a slight cool down period the 2 teams again faced off in the Conference Semifinals of 2001-02, and again the Red Wings emerged victorious in one of the last memorable instances of the conflict.
The Blues failure to reach the playoffs all but once (a very quick exit at the hands of the Canucks) since the NHL lockout of 2004-05 saw the rivalry dwindle in the eyes of many. The Red Wings continued to play at a top-of-the-league level while the Blues floundered near the bottom, and at the beginning of the 2011-12 NHL season every indication pointed to the same scenario prevailing once more, that is until St. Louis made a coaching change.
When Ken Hitchcock stepped on to the scene the Blues future was bleak and uncertain at best. Just a few weeks later and St. Louis finds themselves with the same number of points as the Red Wings, as well as holders of 2 victories over their division foes in their first 2 games against them, and while the Blues may have walked away with the victories, both teams took away their fair share of distaste for one another.
The first game, though a poor showing by a Red Wings team struggling on the road, ended in a 2-1 score. More importantly, it featured this hit on Niklas Kronwall (yes I said on, not by) that resulted in a 3 game suspension for Blues forward Chris Stewart.
You can bet that hit was fresh in the mind of at least one of the teams (whether they would admit it or not) prior to tonight’s battle. The evidence of bitterness was everywhere as players jostled and argued after the whistle repeatedly, and 2 specific incidences involving the goaltenders brought things to another level in the 3rd period before St. Louis went on to win another 1 goal decision.
Detroit has 2 more meetings with St. Louis at the end of this month, and another 2 after that, which means we could be looking at a couple very heated games in the new future. With the Blues playing a much higher level of hockey than in previous years, the Red Wings will face a much tougher match up, and after the events of the season’s first 2 meetings, all signs point to bad blood building between the 2 clubs. That’s just in the short-term though.
If we follow the idea that rivalries are truly developed in the post season, there’s also a chance the 2 could see each other there at the end of the year. The Blues have struggled to make it past the regular season in recent years, but if their current level of play is sustained it’s hard to imagine them not being there. Looking beyond this season, the chances increase even further. With the first 2 rounds of the playoffs to be played inside of the new conferences, and Detroit and St. Louis sharing a new central conference, it’s very likely that (given the continued success of both franchises) the 2 teams will meet each other in the post season much more frequently than they could have before.
This would all make it seem that the likelihood of this former rivalry being rejuvenated is very high, and really there are no cons to this prospect. Bitter rivalries are not only the best part of hockey, but the best part of sports in general. People love to hate opposing teams and their fans, and with the pot of bad feelings already stewing, the Blues-Red Wings rivalry may soon be a thing of the present. When a heated rivalry takes to the ice, no matter which team wins, the fans win, and I think the fans may be winning for a long time to come.