CHICAGO -- The stage is set for the renewal of one of the great rivalries in hockey. The 23-10-4 Blackhawks take on the 23-12-1 Detroit Red Wings in the first of six matches between the clubs. Both teams practiced Friday morning making final preparations for the showdown at night.
“Every team I’ve been on since I’ve been in the league, you prepared for a tough game against Detroit, regardless of who I was playing for,” defenseman Steve Montador said. “Mix that in with the situation we’re both in now. Both teams are fighting for the division. It’s really exciting.”
Montador will get his first taste of the rivalry as will five other Hawks. Players from both sides know the holiday atmosphere at the sold out United Center will play a part in the game.
“You feed off them too,” Wings forward Henrik Zetterbeg said. “Doesn’t matter they’re cheering for the other team. You hear the atmosphere and get fired up.”
Zetterbeg and teammate Pavel Datsyuk can give headaches to the best defensemen in the league.
“They’re about as dynamic as individuals you can find on one team,” Montador said.
“I think the Hawks have the most explosive forward group in the league,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “They have the most upside in talent.”
For Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, his concern is not letting the Red Wings grab the momentum and hold it, especially after they score a goal.
“When they get on the next couple of shifts or particularly that next shift it’s always vital against them,” Quenneville said. “They strike quick, have a lot of firepower … and a lot of intelligence in their team game.”
Quenneville is looking forward to it as much as the players.
“This is right where we need something,” he said. “Everything is going to be at stake tonight. It’ll be good measuring for us.”
Babcock feels the same way. There’s respect going each way between the teams and with three points separating them; it simply doesn’t need any more build up.
“We haven’t seen them this year,” Zetterbeg said. “We’re fired up. It’s always fun to play in this arena. You play better the louder the arena is.”