Duncan Keith is a good guy to ask about rivalry games.
In college, the Chicago Blackhawks' star defensemen played for Michigan State against bitter in-state rival Michigan. In the NHL, he experienced defeat to rival Detroit last year in the Western Conference Finals.
Still, Keith doesn't have to think back too far to name his most intense rivalry experience.
"Canada vs. the U.S.," he said, referring to the games the two countries teams played in the 2010 Winter Olympics. "Nothing else comes close."
Strong words, yes, but they didn't stand alone inside the Hawks' dressing room last week as Chicago readied to play Nashville in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The Hawks had six players play in the Olympics and four compete in the gold medal game won by Canada in overtime.
"You never lose that experience of being there. Those tight games, the elimination games, were just huge."
-- Brent Seabrook on how Olympic pressure prepared him for the Playoffs
For the Canadians, especially. After losing to the U.S. in pool play, they were forced to take a harder road to the gold medal -- having to upend a strong Russian team in the quarterfinals that was led by Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin.
"You never lose that experience of being there," said Seabrook, who is from the Vancouver area. "Those tight games, the elimination games, were just huge."
As it turned out in the playoffs, the Hawks' Olympians needed to draw from their experience sooner than anticipated after Nashville took Game 1. That put the pressure on Chicago to counter in Game 2. Before the Hawks' 2-0 win Sunday, Toews was asked whether coming back from the loss to the U.S. was something he'd thought about after losing to the Predators.
"Absolutely," he said. "To learn how to deal with that pressure was a great experience."
Now, it will be Nashville's turn. The Predators also had six Olympians tested in the Vancouver Games -- including Shea Weber (Canada) and Ryan Suter (USA), who also faced each other for the gold medal.
In that game, Canadian players experienced something similar to hoisting a Stanley Cup, while the Americans were crushed by the missed opportunity. Players from both teams will never forget it.
"It probably took me two or three days (to get over losing)," said Kane, who returned to the Hawks after the break to hugs from teammates, including the Canadians. "To come up a goal short … I guess you could look at it and say we beat them once and they beat us once. It'd sure be nice to have a third game. It really was an opportunity of a lifetime that we just didn't take advantage of."