- Craig Custance
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ON NOV. 24, 1926, Detroit beat Chicago 1-0 for its first-ever win -- and the Blackhawks' first loss. Since then, the two clubs have played each other more often (718 regular-season games) than any other NHL pairing. The Wings are up 92 games and have lifted 11 Cups to Chicago's four, but the Blackhawks hold the playoff series lead 8-7. On Jan. 14, we spent a Saturday in Detroit documenting the passion of the rivalry. If they meet in this year's playoffs, expect a fresh set of heroes, fights and hits. As their fans know, there's history between these two.
A true rivalry isn't great without great players, and the Blackhawks and Red Wings have featured some of the best to ever don a hockey sweater. Gordie Howe retired with 801 career goals -- 166 of which came against the Hawks. Bobby Hull scored 610 times, including 97 on the Wings. Every era has its superstars: Lindsay. Mikita. Yzerman. Savard. Lidstrom. Toews. But often it's been the lunch-pail guys who have created the most lasting memories. It's winger Mush March clinching Chicago's first Stanley Cup with the only goal in a double-overtime win over the Wings in 1934. Or Darren Helm's series winner over the Hawks in Game 5 of the 2009 Western Conference finals, the last time the two met in the playoffs. You don't need a big name to impact the rivalry -- but you can definitely make one.
Blood has been spilled in this rivalry. It's unavoidable when two teams collide at the intersection of passion and animosity. It's also inevitable when one of the NHL's most feared fighters raises fists for both sides of the battle.
Bob Probert built his rep with the Red Wings, racking up 398 penalty minutes in 1987-88. He cemented his legacy in Chicago from 1995 to 2002, accomplishing the unthinkable: becoming a beloved enforcer in both cities. There wasn't a player Probert fought more often than Stu Grimson, who also played for both the Hawks and Wings. Probert traded fists with the Grim Reaper 13 times, with most of the bouts taking center stage at Joe Louis Arena or Chicago Stadium. Probert and Grimson were continuing a hallowed tradition between these two teams.
The morning after Gordie Howe Day in 1972, photos of a brawl between Chicago's Keith Magnuson and Detroit's Nick Libett dominated the Detroit papers. Howe, no doubt, wouldn't have had it any other way.
Gordie Howe was nothing if not courteous. Before lining up a Blackhawks player, Mr. Hockey would often shout a warning: "Here I come!" Of course, advance notice wasn't necessary -- everyone knew the hits would be flying when these teams played.
During the 1950s, defenseman Bill Gadsby was such a physical presence for the Blackhawks, the Red Wings later brought him to Detroit to help send the pain the other way. In the '80s, Chicago's ill-tempered, heavy-hitting defenseman Dave Manson was the nemesis of any Red Wing to cross his path.
And today's fans won't soon forget Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall's crushing blow of Blackhawks forward Martin Havlat along the United Center boards in Game 3 of the '09 Western Conference finals. Havlat was momentarily out cold on the ice. Two games later, the Hawks were also out cold, knocked out of the playoffs. Message sent.
A five-hour drive on I-94 is all that separates two of the NHL's most ardent fan bases. Walk the United Center concourses and it won't take long to hear a "Detroit sucks!" chant -- no matter whom the Hawks are playing.
The hatred has sharpened from years of Norris Division battles and been passed down generations. Detroit owns the regular-season edge 363-262-84-9, but nearly a third of those wins came by one goal. Meanwhile, seven of the 10 largest hockey crowds in United Center history were for Hawks-Wings games. Those fans aren't forgiving.
Chicago native Chris Chelios was booed when the defenseman returned home in '98 as one of the few players to be traded from Chicago to Detroit. The allegiance is to the logo on the front of the sweater, not the name on the back.