By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) Forget the result for a second. Wednesday night’s game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings was one of the most beautiful and exciting games I’ve seen all season. Yes, the hated Red Wings skated away with a 3-2 shootout win at the United Center, but hockey fans were treated to one of the finest regular-season games you’ll ever see.
While none of the four regulation goals were anything spectacular, the little things that make the game great were on display. If I was trying to win over a hockey non-believer, this is the kind of game I’d use to change his or her mind.
Let’s get to the night’s observations.
Marian Hossa vs. Pavel Datsyuk: In the first period, there was a sequence in which Marian Hossa and Pavel Datsyuk were battling each other for the puck. Datsyuk stole the puck from Hossa in the Wings’ zone, only to have the favor returned by Hossa on the other end seconds later. Hossa and Datsyuk are two of the game’s most respected two-way players, and both are headed to the Hall of Fame.
Rivalry without violence: The Hawks have never been shy when it comes to acknowledging the fact that they modeled their rebirth after the Red Wings teams of the 1990s and 2000s. Skill over grit. Team defense over superstar goalie. These two teams play a beautiful game of hockey. They don’t fight. They don’t cheap shot each other at every turn. Pride comes from execution, and the rivalry spawns from the desire to outperform the other team.
Kneel before Saad: The emergence of Brandon Saad is something that I have ignored for far too long this season. For all the hand-wringing I (and others) have done about the development of the kids in Chicago’s system, one of the game’s best young players is putting together the best year of his career. With 18 goals (including one Wednesday night) and 40 points so far this season, Saad (who will turn 23 in October) has become a premier power forward. He is a restricted free agent this summer, but you can fully expect the Blackhawks to do everything they can to keep him in the fold for a long time.
Power play progress: The Blackhawks new power-play unit of Saad, Hossa, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook put together one of the best two-minute bursts I’ve seen all season. While the team failed to score, the Hawks were able to generate three shots on goal and several more attempts. The group moved the puck with ease and created great looks for all five players on the ice. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock successfully adjusted the Wings’ penalty-killing strategy for the later power plays, but with the Hawks’ power play, all we’re looking for are signs of life. They were there. Baby steps.
Fondness for a rival: Maybe it’s true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Maybe it was my awesome trip to Joe Louis Arena to watch the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs play earlier this season. Whatever it is, I miss the Red Wings in the Hawks’ division. I even find myself rooting for them on occasion.
The Detroit-Chicago rivalry was front and center when I was in my formative years as a hockey fan. As the Hawks fell deeper into the hockey abyss in the early 2000s, the Red Wings reigned supreme. They would embarrass the Hawks game after game. Their fans would pack the United Center night after night.
Now with the Hawks and Wings being simultaneously elite, I feel cheated out of what should be an annual playoff matchup. Could the rumored Las Vegas NHL franchise help the Hawks move to the Eastern Conference? Unlikely. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the Stanley Cup Final.
Jay Zawaski is an executive producer at on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.