One more time … with feeling

One of the best things about sports—regardless of whether it’s at the high school or professional level—is the element of rivalry. A tradition-fueled sense of competitiveness that excites and intrigues fans, and even sometimes sets their teeth on edge, as they watch two beloved entities battle.

We’ve seen generations-old rivalries, including the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, reach new pinnacles in the 2000s. And it’s possible that the best is yet to come for those respective feuds. However, arguably the greatest sports rivalry of them all will, for all intents and purposes, come to an end after this season. So it’s appropriate that these two teams will get one final crack at each other before one of them moves to a different division next fall.

Of course we’re talking about the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks.

If you’re a hockey fan (and judging by the overwhelming amount of Blackhawks stickers and flags found on cars in this area, many of you are indeed hockey fans), there’s nothing else like the Wings/Hawks rivalry. And it’s a feud that goes far beyond the ice—it’s about Michigan vs. Illinois; the Motor City against the Windy City; the assembly line vs. meatpacking plants. You name it, it’s all there when the Red Wings and Blackhawks take the ice, and the two franchises have gone toe to toe (really, skate to skate) in both the Stanley Cup Finals (they first did so in 1934, which the Blackhawks won in four games in a best-of-five series) and numerous Campbell and Western Conference playoff series.

Sadly, this storied rivalry will hit the skids next season when the Red Wings relocate to the Eastern Conference, but not before the two teams do battle one more time on the playoff stage. And this 2013 Western Conference Semifinal series couldn’t be any bigger for the Blackhawks—they won the Presidents’ Trophy (given to the team with the best record) this season, and they’re an overwhelming favorite to win their second Stanley Cup in four seasons. This team is young, hungry, deep and tenacious, and it’s quite likely that the Blackhawks’ best hockey is still in front of them. The Red Wings, rather, are in a position they’ve seldom found themselves in during the past decade: the role of underdog. This is a cagey, resilient Detroit squad fresh off of a seven-game slugfest victory over the Anaheim Ducks, and the Wings have more than enough skill and experience to send the Blackhawks golfing early this year.

This series will be irresistible viewing for puck fans. But it should be just as popular with casual sports fans interested in watching two teams that both dislike and heavily respect each other. If you fall into the latter category, you owe it to yourself to catch a game or two from this series. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed.

All good things must come to an end, but this final Red Wings/Blackhawks Western Conference Playoff go-around should serve as a fitting send-off for a rivalry that has truly stood the test of time. Fittingly, the next time these two franchises meet in the playoffs, it will be in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Looks like this rivalry has come full-circle after all.