The Western Conference top two, Blackhawks and Ducks, both want No 1, writes Gregg Patton
NHL: The Anaheim and Chicago birds of a feather come together
The Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks are the best, most-complete teams in the NHL this season, and have the records to prove it.
Last week, they demonstrated why, playing an intense, prideful match in Anaheim. For good measure, they will do it again Friday in Chicago.
If anyone thought the Hawks and Ducks would try to tone down the importance of these regular-season games, they do not understand the passion that got them to the top.
Last week's game ended with a late, furious rally by the Ducks, who scored three times in the final six minutes to win, 4-2, leaving more than just the usual "up" and "down" locker rooms in their wake.
"That was one of the highest-paced and toughest games we've played - and obviously [against] the best team," said Jonathan Toews, the Chicago captain. "There's a reason they're up there with us."
By contrast, the Anaheim defenceman Cam Fowler was tired, but grinning.
"It was two teams fighting for every inch," he said.
"You could just tell from the compete level of both teams how much we wanted it. I can tell you, it was the most fun I've had in a hockey game in a long time."
It was unique - the first time two teams with winning percentages above .800 had met this many games into the season.
There was a raucous, over-capacity crowd of 17,610, the most to see a hockey game at the Honda Center, augmented by thousands wearing Blackhawks sweaters.
The two teams may be all but locked into the Western Conference's top two spots for the play-offs, which begin next month, but neither wants to settle for No 2.
"We needed those two points against the No 1 team in the league," the Ducks veteran Teemu Selanne said.
"It's not fun," said Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks, after Anaheim became the only team to drop the Hawks twice this season. "That's a tough game for us to lose. We had the lead and lost it. It's not something we've done this year."
In fact, not winning after holding a third-period lead has happened only twice. And, yes, it was the Ducks both times, who won a shoot-out in Chicago in their first meeting.
If the Hawks have a slight lead in the standings, the Ducks have been slightly better head-to-head.
"This means a lot to us," said Anaheim's Bobby Ryan, who praised the Hawks for their well-publicised 24-game points streak, but noted his team has "quietly gone about our business".
"This was the first time we've played a game that's really been hyped up."
The core of both teams have recent Stanley Cup championship memories, and seem driven to repeat the experience.
"We've got something really special going," said Selanne, who could be speaking for both teams.
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