At some point in Thursday's Blackhawks-Kings game, a forecheck is going to be given with juuust a bit too much vigor. A skater will spray juuust a bit too much snow in the goalie's face. Chirping will turn into shoving, and shoving will become a brawl. And a real hockey rivalry will be born.
These teams haven't played often enough to engender the deep, dark hockey hatred that only comes from repeated exposure and repeated cheap shots. But the combination of uber-high expectations in Chicago and "Hey, aren't we the defending champs?" L.A. pride has ratcheted Hawks-Kings to near-line brawl status in just three games.
Tonight, we reach DEFCON 1.
The acrimony began with two minutes left in Game 1, when Dave Bolland laid a somewhat-questionable hit on the Kings' then-postseason leading scorer Mike Richards. Richards looked woozy and wobbly coming off the ice, and he hasn't played since with a mystery "upper-body injury" that's postseason-hockey code for "HIS HEAD, STUPID."
Game 2 opened with a noticeably more physical tone, and ended with Kings defender Kyle Clifford chopping at Michal Rozsival's neck like a guillotine and Corey Crawford engulfing Clifford in his pads to protect Captain Serious.
Then Tuesday saw Patrick Sharp and Justin Williams drop their gloves and the Kings' Jeff Carter slash at Duncan Keith' gloveless hand—which led to Carter hitting Keith's stick hard with his face and a four-minute minor penalty.
If familiarity breeds contempt, then Mr. and Mrs. Familiarity have just spent an entire weekend at Sybaris and expect triplets in nine months named Contempt, Rancor and Hatred.
I often make game predictions in this fine newspaper, but this time I won't predict a score for Game 4. Instead I'll steal a line from Shoot the Puck veteran Mr. T and make my prediction: pain.
If this is more than a one-goal game late in the third period—regardless of who's winning—you'll see the biggest hockey brawl of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Yes, bigger than Montreal-Ottawa. And with both the Hawks and Kings having their core players locked up for a few years, it won't be their last.
RedEye special contributor Alex Quigley can be heard on WGN Radio 720.
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