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Sorry, fans: Blackhawks-Wings rivalry built on respect, not hatred

DETROIT — Sorry, Blackhawks fans. Patrick Kane doesn’t think Detroit sucks.

“The fans have gotten better over the years,” Kane said. “I think they’ve always been pretty good in Detroit — if you can believe it, actually pretty nice.”

Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader laughed when he heard that. His experience with Hawks fans?

“They’re not so nice,” he said with a smile. “I think both fan bases, when we play each other, it gets extra heated. Fans are on edge. It makes for a great atmosphere, whether it’s here at [Joe Louis Arena] or the United Center. We always look forward to it. It’s always a game both teams kind of look forward to playing in, and both fan bases look forward to watching.”

When the Hawks and Wings meet for the 808th time (including playoffs) tonight at the Joe, there’ll be plenty of historic bad blood between the fan bases. For the players, though, this isn’t exactly Hawks-Blues or Hawks-Canucks. The hatred just isn’t there, as their memorable 2013 second-round series fades into memory.

For the two franchises, both Original Six teams and both perennial contenders, the rivalry is built on mutual respect.

“I don’t know if there ever was a hatred, if you can call it that, compared to some other teams that we’re used to playing more often in the playoffs,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “When I came into the league, Kane and I were younger players and our team was trying to get to that next level of winning a Stanley Cup. [The Red Wings] were the measuring stick. If anything, I’d say in some ways they still are. And for us, I think we never forget that. We never forget the competitive rivalry that we have, and there’s always that sense that we want to one-up them every time we get the chance.”

Detroit’s move to the Eastern Conference last season has tempered the rivalry even further.

“It’s different,” Abdelkader said. “We’re in the Eastern Conference, so we won’t see those guys until the finals. … But with our past history and two Original Six franchises, it’s always considered a rivalry.”

Rivalry or not, it’s almost always a good game. That 2013 playoff series was one for the ages, and while Kane said the Wings “clutch and grab and kind of hold on to you to make things very tough offensively,” these teams tend to bring out the best in each other.

“We know what to expect when we’re coming into this building,” Toews said. “It’s the same way when they come to ours. I think even if we don’t see each other as often, we’re excited for this one. We’ll try to reignite that rivalry as soon as we can in the first period.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus