As we eagerly await the start of the new NHL season, it’s a perfect time to reflect on some of the most intense and historic rivalries that have defined the league. In particular, the Western Conference’s Central Division has been home to some of the most intense and hard-fought matchups in NHL history. From the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues to the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild, these rivalries have captivated fans and shaped the landscape of the Western Conference.
In this article, we will take a deep dive into the history of the Central Division and its most impactful rivalries. We will explore the origins of these matchups, the key players involved, and their lasting impact on the NHL. So grab your favorite jersey and let’s journey back in time to revisit some of the most exciting and intense rivalries in the Western Conference’s Central Division.
The Early Days
The Central Division, originally known as the Norris Division, was established in 1974 as part of the NHL’s realignment. The division was named after James Norris Sr., the owner of the Detroit Red Wings at the time. The original six teams in the division were the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota North Stars, St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Atlanta Flames.
The Detroit Red Wings quickly emerged as the dominant team in the Norris Division, winning the division title for seven consecutive seasons from 1974 to 1980. However, the Chicago Blackhawks were a close second, with three division titles during that same period. The two teams quickly established a fierce rivalry, with their games often filled with intense physical play and dramatic finishes.
One of the most iconic moments between the Red Wings and the Blackhawks came in the 1971 playoffs. In a best-of-seven series, the Blackhawks were up three games to two, and were leading the seventh and final game by a score of 2-0 with only minutes remaining. The Red Wings refused to back down and mounted a miraculous comeback, scoring three goals in the last six minutes to win the series and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Fall of the North Stars
One of the lesser-known rivalries in the Central Division was between two former division rivals, the Minnesota North Stars and the Detroit Red Wings. The North Stars were no match for the Red Wings in the regular season, as they only won one division title in 1981. However, when it came to the playoffs, the North Stars were the ones who had the upper hand.
In the 1983 playoffs, the North Stars and Red Wings met in the first round. The series went to a deciding game five, and in the final minutes, the Red Wings were leading by a score of 5-4. The North Stars pulled their goalie, giving them an extra attacker, and scored two goals in the final 19 seconds to win the series and advance to the next round.
But perhaps the most famous matchup between the North Stars and the Red Wings came in the 1991 Stanley Cup Finals. The North Stars were heavy underdogs, having barely squeaked into the playoffs as the eighth seed. However, they stunned the hockey world by defeating the top-seeded Blackhawks in the first round, followed by the Blues in the second round and the Oilers in the conference finals.
In the Stanley Cup Finals, the North Stars faced off against the heavily favored Red Wings. In an intense and physical series, the North Stars ultimately prevailed, winning the Stanley Cup in one of the biggest upsets in NHL history. This triumph solidified the North Stars’ place in NHL history and cemented their rivalry with the Red Wings.
The New Millennium: Rekindling Old Flames
The start of the new millennium brought about a wave of change in the NHL, including the formation of the Central Division that we know today. Amidst the realignment, a new rivalry began to emerge between the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings.
The Predators were a relatively new franchise, joining the league in 1998 and joining the Central Division in 1998. They quickly established themselves as a tough and tenacious team, and their style of play clashed with the more skilled and finesse-driven Red Wings. As a result, their games were always fiercely contested, with both teams pushing each other to the limit.
In 2008, the two teams met in the playoffs for the first time, with the Red Wings coming in as the heavy favorites. However, the Predators refused to back down and pushed the Red Wings to the brink, going to a deciding game six. Although they ultimately lost the series, the Predators had announced their presence in the Western Conference and solidified their rivalry with the Red Wings.
The Modern Era: Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues
In recent years, the rivalry between the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues has taken center stage in the Central Division. The two teams have had a long-standing rivalry, with their games often carrying a playoff-like intensity.
The rivalry reached new heights in 2016 when the two teams met in the first round of the playoffs. The Blackhawks, who had won three Stanley Cups in the previous six seasons, were once again the favorites. However, the Blues stunned the hockey world by defeating the Blackhawks in seven games, one of the biggest upsets in recent NHL history.
The rivalry has only intensified since then, with both teams consistently vying for playoff spots and division titles. Each game between these two teams is filled with intensity, physicality, and high-scoring action. And with both teams boasting star players and a fierce desire to win, this rivalry shows no signs of slowing down.
The Central Division has been home to some of the most intense and historic rivalries in NHL history. From classic matchups between the Red Wings and Blackhawks to the emergence of new rivalries like the one between the Blues and the Blackhawks, this division has always been filled with excitement and drama.
As we gear up for the new NHL season, we can’t help but look forward to the intense and unforgettable matchups that await us in the Central Division. And with so much history and passion behind these rivalries, we can be sure that they will continue to entertain and captivate us for years to come.