If it's not the best rivalry in the NHL, than it's awfully close.
The Vancouver Canucks despise the Chicago Blackhawks, and the feeling is mutual. They've met 32 times in the last three-plus seasons, and in the last three Stanley Cup playoffs, including Vancouver's seven-game victory last spring, and Chicago's six-game triumphs in 2010 and 2009.
Wednesday, they renew hostilities at Rogers Arena, the scene of last April's Game 7 victory by the Canucks in overtime. Chicago, which nearly erased an 0-3 series deficit last spring, boasts the Western Conference's best record (11-4-3), but suffered an embarrassing loss on home ice last week when the Canucks converted five of six power-plays and took a 6-2 victory at the United Center.
"I think they've got their special teams back on track," said Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider, who will start for an injured Roberto Luongo.
The club said Luongo was suffering an "upper-body injury" but would not disclose specifics Tuesday because they were spooked by the NHL's refusal to suspend Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic for his check on Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller. Head coach Alain Vigneault amended that prognosis Wednesday, saying third-string goaltender Eddie Lack would be sent back down to the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves after the game. Lack will serve as Schneider's backup.
That suggests that Luongo's injury is not serious, and Vigneault added that he is confident that the NHL will protect goaltenders from violent collisions.
That's an important consideration in the Blackhawks-Canucks rivalry because the former has made a habit of going hard to the crease, and bumping and jostling Vancouver's goaltenders.
For the most part, that has been Luongo. The Hawks have gotten in his crease and in his head, and it led to a one-game benching in Game 6 last year when Vigneault surprisingly tabbed Schneider to start.
Schneider left that game with cramping -- after allowing two goals with puck handling gaffes -- but said he hasn't been bothered by that since. He said he has changed his routine, and now takes in more fluids on daily basis in order to prevent cramping.
The Canucks once again boast the NHL's best power play (26.7 per cent), and are 11th in penalty killing (86.5 per cent). Chicago, meanwhile, is 23rd on the power play (13.2 per cent) and 26th (76.4 per cent) while shorthanded.
The Blackhawks will have centre Dave Bolland in the lineup. The centre returns after a three-game absence. He missed the first three games of last year's playoff series, but his return spurred a three-game winning streak for Chicago, as the team evened the series and nearly won Game 7.