SUN Hockey Pool

NHL spreading out the hate

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:26 PM ET

Foundations for rivalries in the NHL are built in the playoffs.

A scrappy seven-game series in 2004 propelled the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames into Battle of Alberta territory.

Wounds from last spring's war against the Blackhawks are still fresh enough to fill the Flames with bad intentions as they headed to Chicago for tonight's meeting -- their first since the Hawks claimed the first-round playoff matchup in six games.

"Oh yeah, there was definitely some chippy moments in our series against Chicago, without a doubt," said Flames winger Eric Nystrom.

"Some guys don't forget that."

Craig Conroy is one of those who tends to remember big losses.

He still holds a grudge against the Detroit Red Wings for being a perennial pain in his backside during his days with the St. Louis Blues.

Going back months instead of years, Conroy recalls what the Blackhawks did to the Flames last spring.

"They ended your hopes and dreams," Conroy said, adding the final result of the 2004 Stanley Cup final against the Lightning is also a motivating factor every time he suits up against the Bolts.

"Yeah, I still want to beat Tampa every time. Maybe other guys don't feel that way, but I do.

"That's just the way it is."

Ugly is the way it's been in Chicago over the last 12 months.

You have to go back to their final meeting in 2008 to find the last Flames win in the Windy City.

Swept 4-0 in the regular-season in 2008-09 and losing all three playoff matchups at the United Center, things often got out of hand there last year.

They lost their pair of regular-season games in Chicago by a combined score of 11-3. Their last visit was a 5-1 embarrassment in Game 5 of the playoffs.

"We want to come in and play well against them," Conroy said of tonight's opportunity.

"They played well against us in the regular season, so we want to change that mentality.

"They knocked us out of the playoffs last year. We want to have our best game of the year against these guys."

Missing from the playoff series were defencemen Robyn Regehr and Mark Giordano, who both had to skip the playoffs with injuries.

Jay Bouwmeester wasn't around, either.

Up front, there are a few new wingers mixed in.

Chicago, too, has made a couple of changes -- most notably the departure of Martin Havlat up front and Nikolai Khabibulin in net.

"But there's still the group of guys that were here for the playoffs -- on both sides," said Nystrom.

"We all know they knocked us out of the playoffs, so that's obviously another reason to play hard against them."

A more basic reason is the Blackhawks are expected to be one of the Western Conference's best teams.

"They're the benchmark," said Nystrom.

"If we want to be successful in this conference, these are the teams we've got to beat."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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