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Wild vs. Blackhawks- The Rivalry That Isn't

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Despite realignment, divisional playoffs, and two postseason meetings, the Wild-Blackhawks rivalry is tepid.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone wants a rivalry between the Minnesota Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks to happen.

Fans want it. The Blackhawks and the Minnesota North Stars had one of the great rivalries in hockey during the 80s to early-90s, meeting in several playoffs that were often hotly contested. Names like Dino Ciccarelli and Al Secord are still mud in Chicago and Minnesota, respectively.

Mutual Respect is The Kiss of Death For Aspiring Rivalries

Wild owner Craig Leopold wants it. Leopold reportedly had an opportunity to host a Stadium Series game against the Dallas Stars. Leopold declined the league's offer, hoping to get a sexier match-up with the Blackhawks, eventually getting his wish. A rivalry with the marquee Blackhawks offers a marketing opportunity for the Wild.

The NHL wants it. The league realigned their divisions, brought back divisional playoffs, and routinely force Minnesota and Chicago onto NBC's "Rivalry Nights." They didn't do this just to facilitate the Wild-Blackhawks rivalry, but the opportunity to revive long-dormant feuds like Minnesota-Chicago was no doubt a huge motivation in these recent changes to the NHL.

And in theory, this should be working. Not only have the Wild and Blackhawks played each other more often in the regular season, but the two teams have drawn each other in the playoff each of the last two years. Last year's playoff series was very competitive, with both teams playing each other evenly before Patrick Kane ended the Wild's season in Game 6 with an overtime goal.

All of this has the makings of a classic rivalry. The only problem? It hasn't quite caught on. Why?

No Bad Blood

A great way to create a rivalry within a short period of time is to have an emotionally-charged moment to pour gasoline on the fire that is playoff hockey. The most obvious example to come to mind is last year's Matt Cooke incident. There had been chippy play between the Wild and Avalanche prior to Cooke's knee-on-knee hit on Tyson Barrie, but it wasn't until that hit until the two teams (and fanbases) truly started hating each other. That incident carried over to the regular season, where matches against the Avs tended to feature more heated moments than typically seen during Wild games.

Obviously, a potential career-threatening injury isn't necessary to produce a rivalry. But some sort of controversial happening in a big moment is almost required to forge the kind of rivalry fans want to see. This hasn't happened, and thus the feelings these teams have for each other appear to be mutual respect. That's the Kiss of Death for an aspiring rivalry.

Style of Play

That there are few charged moments between these two teams almost certainly stems from the style of play both Minnesota and Chicago prefer. Chicago finished 29th in hits during the regular season. Minnesota? 30th. The Blackhawks and Wild want to avoid a physical match so that their skill players have the freedom to rule the day, and they've been only too happy to oblige each other.

It's good news for the Wild, as they get to play "their game". The downside is that by design, neither team plays the chippy, physical game that correlates to historic rivalries.

Little Success for the Wild

While there are some rivalries where one team consistently gets the better of the other, most involve either both teams winning roughly equally, or one team losing to- and eventually surpassing- their rival.

The Wild are basically the Blackhawks' little brother right now. They both play similar styles, but the Blackhawks are older, more experienced, and- at least up to this point- are better. The Blackhawks are a standard that the Wild are aspiring to be, but until they actually defeat Chicago, the Blackhawks (or at least their fanbase) won't see the Wild as their equal.

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All of this could change during the course of the upcoming series. There could be a controversial moment, emotions could finally spill over, or the Wild could win. Anything can happen. After all, who knew that the Wild's series against Colorado last year would create so much animosity?

But as of now, the rivalry that everyone so desperately wants to be created between the Wild and the Blackhawks doesn't exist. And it's a shame, because it's one that would inspire a lot of passion between the fanbases, and add a lot more intrigue to what should be an exciting match-up between two very good teams.