CHICAGO – Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Ladd had a smile on his face and a hockey player’s gash on his nose Thursday as he downplayed his feud with Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler.
“Everything we are trying to do in here trumps any personal vendettas or whatever you have,” Ladd said, two days before the teams start their rematch of last year’s Western Conference semifinals.
Kesler called Ladd a “coward” earlier this year after they got into a fight during a game in Vancouver. Kesler said Ladd crosschecked him during the playoffs a year ago when he wasn’t looking and broke his nose.
It’s just one of several run-ins between the teams over the last two years, a rivalry that was heightened last season by Chicago’s six-game playoff victory.
“It just seems we got a lot of different personalities that clash, maybe,” Ladd said. “I think any time there is an emotional attachment on any level like we have with some of their guys, it’s going to be fun and make for great games and intense games.”
The Canucks aren’t very fond of the song that blares across the United Center every time the Blackhawks score a goal. And they heard it plenty last season in Game 6 when the Blackhawks clinched the series with a 7-5 victory that featured three goals from Patrick Kane and left Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo in tears.
“For us, we love hearing that song and I don’t think other teams like hearing it,” Ladd said. “It’s no secret that both teams don’t like each other, but that’s fine.”
Kesler, who was an Olympic teammate of Kane’s on the USA squad that lost to Canada in the gold medal game, said what the Canucks really want is some payback.
“They knocked us out last year,” Kesler said. “That has a lot to do with the reason why we want another crack at them. It’s good we get to have this do-over again.”
Among the testy matchups is the goal crease battle between Luongo and Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien, who will try to get in Luongo’s way and his head. And last season there was a minibrawl with a couple of fights, one that included Alex Burrows of the Canucks pulling the hair of Chicago’s Duncan Keith.
So, expect a hair-raising series. This time the Blackhawks have the home ice advantage that the Canucks enjoyed a year ago but couldn’t take advantage of.
“It’s going to be physical right off the opening faceoff,” Vancouver’s Shane O’Brien predicted. “It’s not going to take very long for us not to like each other because frankly we don’t already like each other. It’s going to be easy to get the emotions going.”
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville warned that his team can’t get into skirmishes, draw penalties and give Vancouver chances on the power play.
“Retaliation won’t be tolerated. It can only get you in trouble,” Quenneville said. “We want to make sure we are smart in that area, and discipline is going to be a big factor in the series.”
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who missed six games this season after he was flattened by Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell in a game at the United Center, said the give-and-take between the teams is to be expected.
“They have certain players who will try and antagonize and get in our heads and it’s the same way the other way around,” Toews said. “Every player has a role and a purpose. … The physical part and the skill part and obviously the chatter and everything that is said on and off the ice is part of an intense playoff series.”
A key move for the Canucks in their opening-round win over the Los Angeles Kings came midway through Game 4 when they moved Mikael Samuelsson to the first line with the Sedin twins.
Samuelsson, who had a team-high 11 points in that series, including seven goals, left practice early Wednesday to get treatment for an undisclosed injury and did not skate Thursday. He is expected to play Saturday.