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Better Know A Rivalry: The Red Wings

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So the Wings it is.  After the Flame-Outs lived up to their clever nickname once again by losing to the Jeremy Roenick-led San Jose Sharks last night (at least Mike Keenan got to yank a goalie, his favorite hobby), the matchups for the Western Conference Semifinals have been set.

San Jose will face Dallas.

Colorado will face Detroit.  Hoo boy.

Now, before I get going, let me state one more time for the record: the "Blood Feud" between the Red Wings and the Avalanche is over.  It ended before the Lockout.  The lineups of both teams are almost completely different than the last time the two teams met in the playoffs (2002!).  With the exceptions of names like Hasek, McCarty, Forsberg, Foote and Sakic, nobody is left who has first-hand experience of the brutal, vicious regular season and playoff games between the two teams in the 90s and early Aughts.

But that doesn't mean we, as Avalanche fans, wouldn't love to see the Dead Wings crash and burn hard in the second round.  Our hatred for them, though waning at times, will persist forever.

This will be the sixth playoff series between the two teams since the Avalanche franchise moved to Denver from Quebec in 1995.  The Avs' record in those series is 3-2, but the Wings lead in total Cups won by the same count.

The history:

1996: Western Conference Finals - Avs won 4 games to 2 (won Cup)
1997: Western Conference Finals - Wings won 4 games to 2 (won Cup)
1999: Western Conference Semifinals - Avs won 4 games to 2
2000: Western Conference Semifinals - Avs won 4 games to 1
2002: Western Conference Finals - Wings won 4 games to 3 (won Cup)

Of interest is the fact that every year the Avs have met the Wings in the Western Conference Finals, the winning team has gone on to win the Cup.  When they've met in the Semifinals (like they will starting tomorrow night), neither team has won the ultimate prize.  Does that matter now?  It might, since it's arguable (and likely for at least one of the teams) that neither is really a Cup contender compared to favorites like San Jose or even Pittsburgh.  

But none of that matters.  

What might matter is the fact that the Wings dominated the Avs in the regular season, winning four games to none (including three shutouts).  But, like Terry Frei points out, the Avalanche lineup that got crushed back before March is considerably different than the one currently in the playoffs.  Forsberg and Foote are back (and playing well).  Ryan Smyth, Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny are all healthy and playing well.  The defense is light years better with the addition of Ruslan Salei and the subtraction of Karlis Skrastins.  The Avs' penalty kill was superb against the Wild and the power play has improved.  

Now, are the changes in Colorado enough to overcome the Red Wings, the team that won the President's Trophy for like the fiftieth year in a row and put away the scrappy Nashville Predators in six games?  Maybe.

The Wings do have a recent legacy of regular season dominance and post-season collapse to overcome.  Last year it was in the Western Conference Finals against the Ducks.  Before that it was in the first round against the Oilers.  Before that it was in the Semifinals against Calgary.  The Red Wings haven't been to a Cup final since they won it all in 2002.  The Avs haven't been since the previous year, when they last won it all.

So what are the Avs' chances against the Wings?  Honestly, I have no idea.  But I do know that their success will rely on the solid oak Pimp Cane of Jose Theodore, and Adam Foote will have more than just one star player to harass like he did against Minnesota.  The Wings have two superstar forwards in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.  And the oft-inconsistent Avalanche offense will have to contend with Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, not to mention underrated Niklas Kronwall.  Oh, and Chris Osgood had a great year and two solid playoff games so far in relief of the Lowest Common Dominator, Dominik Hasek.

The Wings, no doubt about it, will be a formidable opponent.  And so, too, will be the Wings bloggers, my favorite of whom is Bill over at A2Y.  I look forward to flagrantly insulting him for at least the next week and a half.  The good news is, bitter though they are, Wings diehards tend to have much better senses of humor than those god-awful Wild fans.

ADDENDUM: The first shot has been fired.  Bernie Lincicome at the Rocky Mountain News has launched the opening salvo of the ego-obsessed sports columnist battle to come.  Can't wait for Paige and Kiszla to weigh in with their own deep thoughts.  As for Detroit, do they even have newspapers anymore?  Boooosh!!  See, I can do it too!