The St. Louis Blues longest rival might not always have been their biggest. The bad blood in the 1990’s and 2000’s went to another level with Detroit.
In terms of proximity and length of the rivalry, it doesn’t get any better than the bad blood between the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks. Their histories are intertwined, with the Chicago owners playing a major part in landing St. Louis a team – mostly to unload the arena, but still.
From the grand perspective, there isn’t anyone higher than Chicago for St. Louis fans. However, much of that has to do with the city as opposed to purely based on the team.
St. Louis loves to hate on anything Chicago. Of course the Cubs are enemy number one, but the Blackhawks moved their way up the ladder. The Bears are a team most are indifferent towards since St. Louis and Chicago were never in the same division and the Bulls get a pass because there aren’t many who even know St. Louis once had an NBA team.
Even so, a recent conversation with Randy Karraker on 101 ESPN coupled with conversations I have had with other fans got me thinking. Despite Chicago being the Blues top rival overall, there is little to no doubt in my mind that Detroit was the team’s biggest rival for a brief time and might stay that way.
It’s hard to compare teams and eras. There is no doubt that plenty of Chicago players make your skin crawl.
You have your Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith‘s of the world right now. Back in the day it was even worse with guys like Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick, Bob Probert, Michele Goulet and, the worst of all, Ed Belfour.
Several of those names were players you could not pay Blues fans to accept as one of their team. The feeling was likely mutual the other way.
Nevertheless, the raw hatred felt for the Detroit Red Wings of the mid-1990’s through the 2000’s was something we may never see again.
There were so many reasons to hate Detroit, not the least of which was they were so damn good, pardon the language. From 1991 until today, the Red Wings had 17 seasons where they had 100 points or more in a season. They had five more seasons with 90 points or more, showcasing an annoying consistency that should not exist in modern day sports.
Once the Blues missed out on the playoffs, Detroit sailed by St. Louis’ modern record for most consecutive years in the playoffs. Detroit made the postseason every year from 1990-91 until they missed for the 2016-17 season. Thankfully, they have not been back since to give us all a break.
Younger fans might have only gotten a taste of Detroit, which puts the recent Chicago teams ahead for them. Still, for as horrible as it was losing to Chicago, there was something different about Detroit during all those years.
Blues fans kept thinking this has to be the year we are better than them. The Blues picked up Wayne Gretzky to bolster Brett Hull‘s offense in 1996 and then Gretzky turned the puck over, which led to a moment constantly replayed in NHL commercials that stings every time you see it. It’s the modern-day version of what Blues fans that lived through the Bobby Orr flying moment have to feel when they see that.
The Blues seemed like they had the more dominant team than Detroit in 2000-01 after winning the Presidents Trophy the year before. The Red Wings just jumped right back up and won the divison and then the Blues couldn’t get past Colorado.
In their history, the Blues are 16-24 against the Red Wings in the playoffs. Interestingly, the Blues did not see Detroit a ton in the playoffs, but they did lose four straight series against their rival in 1996, 97, 98 and also 2002. Those were the years that set the level of this rivalry for a generation of fans.
You just could not get past them. They seemed like they played on another level to where every pass hit the tape in stride and you were trying to catch up.
Those were both quality goaltenders. They were guys you could beat though, but Detroit either clamped down enough or scored enough that it never mattered.
Everyone that suited up for them made you sick. It makes me sad I felt this way as a kid, but I won’t lie that I shed no tears when Claude Lemieux put Kris Draper‘s face into the boards. Looking back, that was not a responsible way to feel, but you don’t know these things and react more on emotion at that age.
Draper, Niklas Lidstrom, Larry Murphy, Sergei Federov, Steve Yzerman, Tomas Holmstrom, Igor Larionov, Pavel Datsyuk, Darren McCarty and so many more were all players that you just wanted to see get theirs. They almost never did and usually found a way to give you yours, so to speak.
What made things worse was, intentionally or not, Detroit always found a way to rub more salt in the wound. As Karakker pointed out, they ended up taking old Blues and winning, where St. Louis had failed with those same guys.
Steve Duchesne, Brendan Shanahan, Dallas Drake and Brett Hull all won Stanley Cups with Detroit. Even Osgood won another one after leaving St. Louis. The fact Chelios became a Red Wing and won made it all the more bitter.
St. Louis has its Stanley Cup now and that eases a lot of the tension from all those years. I can’t say it doesn’t take a small glimmer off it to have never beaten Detroit for a little retribution before they bolted to the Eastern Conference, but their place in the standings will make that pain go away. Any Blues fan would take the Cup no matter who they had to go through, but it just would have been nice to take down Detroit and Chicago on the way
Chicago will always be the top rival from a longevity standpoint and for the back and forth nature of the rivalry. However, for pure hatred and a feeling of Sisyphus’ punishment of rolling the bolder up a hill only for it to fall when the summit was in sight for the Blues will put the Red Wings of those years on a different level.