- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA (AP) - The Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks have plenty of recent rich history in their rivalry.

The past three seasons alone have included everything from hair pulling to body slams, name calling to calling out. Most important to any good NHL rivalry, the past two years it ended with Chicago knocking the Canucks out of the playoffs.

With a history like that, you’d think it would be easy to get players talking about each other before their first-round series kicks off Wednesday in Vancouver. Think again.

“You don’t really need any more story lines,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who earlier this season accused Chicago counterpart Joel Quenneville of running up the score in a 7-1 November romp.

“Do you want me to do like that Jets coach here: ‘it’s between me and Quenneville?’ No, there’s a tremendous amount of story lines because of the history between both of these teams.”

For all the bitter history, the focus going into the best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series was how much these two teams have changed since last season.

Chicago went on to win the Stanley Cup after eliminating Vancouver in six games in the second round for a second straight season.

But the Blackhawks were forced to shed 11 players to stay under the salary cap, including several key Canucks‘ antagonists, and needed help from Minnesota beating Dallas in the final game of the season Sunday just to make it back into the playoffs.

Meanwhile the Canucks, in part because of improvements made after losing again to Chicago, set franchise records for points (117) and wins (54) and became the first team since the 1977-78 Canadiens to lead the league in goals for and against while winning the Presidents’ Trophy.

Listening to them talk about each other, you’d think each team was running the other’s fan club.

The only disagreement was which team was the favorite.

“We’re certainly underdogs in this series,” Quenneville said.

Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo didn’t sound quite as certain.

“Far as I know they’re still Stanley Cup champs,” he said.

Maybe so, but these are not the same Blackhawks that hoisted the Cup. Gone are goalie Antti Niemi and forward Andrew Ladd, who was once called a “coward” by Canucks center Ryan Kesler.

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