For sports fans of every city, there’s always that one team that the masses want to see fail. Maybe that team is always on the winning end of a hard-fought playoff series. Maybe it’s just about proximity to the favoring stadium or arena. Maybe it’s just as simple as that city’s most-hated player is on the opposing end.
For the St. Louis Cardinals baseball club, it’s the Chicago Cubs. For football’s St. Louis Rams, it’s likely the San Francisco 49ers. For the past, present and probably future, the St. Louis Blues would likely say the Chicago Blackhawks are the team they would most enjoy defeating. However, from the late 1980s to recent memory, that hated franchise was the Detroit Red Wings.
“I still hate the Red Wings,” said Blues fan John Lamer of O’Fallon, Mo. “I don’t want them to make the playoffs, so we can hear their fans complain about missing the postseason for once.”
From Steve Yzerman’s infamous series-clinching goal in 1996 to the Red Wings’ utter dominance in matchups of the 2002-03 season (4-0 record against the Blues), the Red Wings seemed to have the St. Louis team’s number for the better part of two decades.
That changed to open the 2013-14 season, when the Winged Wheel moved to the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference, leaving the Blues to contend in the Central Division.
In addition to the League-wide realignment, the NHL also instituted a new schedule that sees each team face opponents from the other conference twice; once at home and once on the road.
The Blues hosted the Red Wings Thursday night at Scottrade Center, marking just the third matchup in the past two seasons.
Fresh off scoring the tournament-clinching goal in the women’s under-18 hockey championship, O’Fallon native Jincy Dunne dropped the ceremonial first puck in the contest. She felt there was still a different buzz in the building throughout the game.
“I think there’s always going to be a little bit of a rivalry there,” she said. “Rivalries tend to last for a long time.”
Blues fan Kelly Wegener has a unique situation in her St. Charles home. The native of Ballwin grew up in a hockey-mad family who witnessed all the emotional moments of Blues and Red Wings matchups. However, she chose to marry a Red Wings fan last year.
“I think there is still a rivalry,” she said. ”I can’t tell you how many Red Wings fans I actually saw walking into the arena. I was surprised. They all yell and cheer at each other and think they’re actually cool.”
Her husband, Ryan, is a native of Michigan and has lived in St. Louis for eight years.
“I wish I could say the rivalry was really strong and that this is a game that really matters, but it’s fading,” he said. “We have to find a new rival in the East. In the overall standings, this game doesn’t count for much. It’s hard to really get into it as much as we did before.”
The play on the ice suggested otherwise.
There were 22 minutes of penalties in the game, including matching roughing minors to Blues winger Steve Ott and Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith right off the bat at 2:46 of the first period.
The game was scoreless until Detroit’s Joakim Andersson tallied his first of the season at 18:04 of the second period on his team’s 13th shot of the game. Exactly one minute later, Red Wings left-winger Tomas Tatar scored his 18th marker of the season to give the Red Wings a resounding 2-0 lead heading into the second intermission.
Known only as Hitch’s Hat on Twitter, the season ticket holder since 1997 felt that the second goal was the rallying point for the Red Wings fans in the building to take over the Scottrade Center.
“Until that second goal, it was a lot like another Eastern Conference opponent to me,” he said. “They became loud and, all of a sudden, we remembered why we hated the Red Wings.”
The Blues stormed back in the third period, as David Backes added his 16th goal of the season at 3:58 and Alexander Steen netted his 14th of the campaign with just 48 seconds remaining in regulation. Both goals were tipped in from in front of the net.
However, the Red Wings capitalized with 2.2 seconds remaining in overtime, when Pavel Datsyuk notched his 15th tally of the season after he unloaded a wrist shot that eluded Blues goaltender Brian Elliott. The goal gave the St. Louis team a 1-1-1 record against the Red Wings since their move to the Eastern Conference.
“Those were two good hockey teams going at it,” said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. “They are two well-coached teams. It was like a chess match out there. Whether they’re still a rival or not, it was a good test for us. I thought we did a lot of good things (in the game).”
St. Louis captain David Backes, who recorded four goals against Detroit on April 2, 2009, played the first seven seasons of his career with Detroit in his team’s division. He has 24 points and 72 penalty minutes in 41 career meetings with the former Central rivals, and he admits that there was still some scorn lingering from past seasons.
“You don’t quite have that disdain for the other team when you only see them twice a year,” he said after the game. “Last time we saw them was at the end of last season, (which was) eight or nine months ago. It’s a little bit lessened, but they put plenty of whoopings on us in my first five years. That (disdain) is never going to go away completely.
“It was a heck of a game tonight, we just needed to find a way to get on the other side of a one-goal game.”
The Blues and Red Wings will meet up for the final time of the 2014-15 season on March 22 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. It’ll likely be another night that Blues fans hope for an extra effort from their favorite team.
“It’s got more importance than playing the Florida Panthers or any other Eastern Conference team,” Lamer, 27, said. “The hate is still there, I think. I definitely want to see the Blues beat Detroit and really don’t want them to beat us.”
“It’s still satisfying to beat Detroit,” added Hitch’s Hat. “You get a small monkey off your back. With them having beat us so much over the last few years, you still get that little bit of satisfaction.”
With the only chance of the Red Wings playing in St. Louis again this season coming in a potential Stanley Cup Final meetup, Blues fans and players have to focus energy on current division rivals. The No. 1 team to fill those shoes is one that has stood the test of time: the Blackhawks.
“(On a scale from 1-10), I’m probably at a solid 7 with the Red Wings,” said Hitch’s Hat. “They beat us another time this season, it might notch up to an 8.
“With Chicago, though, I’m at an 11.”