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Will the Winter Classic rekindle the Red Wings-Maple Leafs rivalry? No, but it’s a start

I hate to agree with the Canadian Press's Stephen Whyno, but despite HBO 24/7's best efforts, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs may be one of the NHL's most historically bitter rivals, but they are not rivals in the present-day sense of the term, and when Whyno spoke with the Leafs and Wings at last weekend's game at the Air Canada Center (and the Leafs at their practice in Toronto on Monday), he found that both the Leafs and Wings agreed that their status as division rivals is great and all, but you've got to play playoff hockey to truly rekindle what really was--and hopefully will be--an absolutely vicious hate-hate relationship:

It was the hope for HBO’s “24/7” and the Winter Classic, that the Leafs and Red Wings would rekindle their old rivalry now that they’re division rivals for the first time since 1998. But it will take more than just an internationally televised regular-season game to drudge up a lot of hostilities between Toronto and Detroit.

“Maybe the ‘24/7’ and maybe the Winter Classic can help with all that,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “To have a rivalry to me, what you do is you meet in the playoffs, you have two really good teams, you have hard series and you build up some animosity for one another. That hasn’t been possible.”

Forget about the playoffs. It hasn’t been possible because until their Dec. 22 meeting at Air Canada Centre, the Leafs and Red Wings hadn’t played a regular-season game against each other since Jan. 7, 2012.

Just over a dozen players remain from that meeting. Clarkson is one of the new participants, but he doesn’t think the rivalry has deteriorated of late.

“I don’t think from playing each other a ton over the last couple years, I don’t think it’s gone away,” Clarkson said. “I think it’s coming back. With them coming back and playing each other more, especially with (the Winter Classic) that’s coming up, I think that rivalry’s there and it’s going to continue to grow and grow over the next couple of years.”

For now the reality of the situation is that Wednesday's game is about division rivals earning two points:

Through Sunday’s games, the Leafs and Red Wings were tied with 45 points and both sitting in wild-card positions in the Eastern Conference.

The Wings burn their game in hand over Toronto tonight in Nashville--both games will play game 42 of their seasons on Wednesday--and the Wings' 18-13-and-9 record isn't quite as good as the Leafs' 20-16-and-5 one...

Daniel Alfredsson knows all about having a rivalry with the Leafs from his time with the Ottawa Senators. The Battle of Ontario got a spark with a 2004 playoff series, which might be what it takes for Toronto and Detroit.

“I think it’s great that these two teams are in the same division now, and we’re going to start to play each other a lot more,” Alfredsson said. “But also I think you need to play each other in the playoffs to really create that heated rivalry as we had.”

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hdw's avatar

One just have to look at the enthusiastic reception that Alfie got in Toronto to see that rivalry between Toronto and Detroit still has quite some way to go before it can be called a proper rivalry.

The Toronto crowd showed at least 10 times more feelings towards Alfie for being Alfie than for any other Red Wing or the Red Wings as such.

I’d say that it’ll take at least one heated play off series, but most likely several, before the rivalry can take off properly.

Posted by hdw on 12/30/13 at 06:45 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.