Last Thursday night some friends and I sat in a tiny restaurant in Burbank* and happily watched the Chicago Blackhawks advance to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the booth next to us sat a cab driver named Elmer who grew up on the south side of Chicago. Over the course of the game, he and I chatted about the Blackhawks’ playoff chances, how much the team has improved this year, and the other Chicago teams we root for (Elmer was a Sox fan, but he didn’t seem to harbor any malice for us Cubs fans). Mostly we discussed who we wanted to face in the next round and why.
*The restaurant is called Taste Chicago, and it’s owned by actor and Chicago native Joe Mantegna. The story goes that he and his wife couldn’t find a place to get good Italian Beef or Chicago-style pizza, so they opened their own. It’s not much more than a hole in the wall, but the restaurant serves as an unofficial gathering place for former Chicagoans. I stopped by in December for the Bears’ last game, and the place was packed to the rafters, with Mantegna in an orange and blue Bears wig leading the singing of “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” after every touchdown. If you’re ever in the area, it’s worth a stop.
Elmer was eager to march through the San Jose Sharks and face off against the Anaheim Ducks on the way to the Cup Finals. He was looking for revenge–the Ducks went 3-0 against the Blackhawks this season. His contention was that Anaheim had lucked out by facing us when we were dealing with injuries, and that they needed to be put in their place during our playoff run. And while I agree that we probably should have been able to handle them in a seven-game series, I honestly wanted no part of the Ducks in the postseason. In my book, the sooner they were out of the playoffs, the better.
Fast forward to this past Sunday night when I gleefully watched the Detroit Red Wings stomp to death the Ducks’ postseason hopes. And while I’m thrilled the Blackhawks won’t have to deal with pesky Anaheim, they’ve exchanged one potential hurdle for another.
The Red Wings are one of the most consistently skilled, smart, and well-constructed teams in the league. They often play with a freakish efficiency, and they rarely seem to struggle to fill spots in their roster with more top-flight talent. And as the Blackhawks’ oldest rival, they hold a 389-313-84 advantage in the all-time record against Chicago. I’m not sure the Blackhawks won’t have a tougher time against them than they might have had against the Ducks.
But I do know that this series will matter in ways a series against Anaheim never could. I know that the history between these two franchises is inescapable, and that regardless of who comes out on top, the victory will be all the sweeter because of who they’ve beaten.
And maybe that’s where this connects back to baseball. Given the historic lack of postseason success on the Northside, maybe we shouldn’t be picky. But
if when the Cubs make their next playoff run, would you want it to go through St. Louis? Would playoff glory be that much sweeter against the Cardinals? Is it better to stare down and conquer your greatest foe, or would you rather take on the pesky team that’s bothered you all season?
If he had his druthers, I think Elmer would have chosen both.