The 10 Most-Heated NHL Rivalries
By Bob D’Angelo, Smack Zone Contributor
The NHL season is back, and that means the renewal of some intense rivalries. Some are as old as the National Hockey League itself, while others have become more prominent over the past few years.
Here is a look at 10 of the top rivalries in NHL history:
Canadiens vs. Bruins
— Mark your calendar for Saturday. The NHL’s most contentious rivalry resumes when Montreal travels to Boston to face the Bruins.
Not only are these teams regular-season rivals, meeting for the first time on December 8, 1924. They also have clashed 34 times in the playoffs, beginning in 1929. Throw in the fact that they are two of the Original Six teams, with passionate, provincial fan bases, and that makes for a bubbling, boiling feud. The Canadiens have won the Stanley Cup a record 24 times, which makes them the New York Yankees of hockey, or more ironically, the Boston Celtics of hockey. Take your pick. The Bruins have won the Cup six times.
Between 1965 and 1979, either the Canadiens or Bruins (and on two occasions, both) appeared in all but one Stanley Cup Finals. Montreal won Lord Stanley’s Cup 10 times, while Boston won twice. The Canadiens swept the series in 1977 and won in six games the following season.
There have been plenty of on-ice incidents, but two stand out. After all, how many players have had a riot named after them?
On March 13, 1955, Hal Laycoe high-sticked Maurice Richard, and the “Rocket” retaliated by trampling Laycoe and slugging a linesman. He was nearly arrested by the Boston police, and would be suspended for the rest of the season and playoffs by NHL president Clarence Campbell.
When Campbell appeared at the Montreal Forum on March 17 — the Canadiens’ first game after the suspension was announced — for a March 17 game, the partisan fans rioted. Smoke bombs and property damage exceeding $100,000 resulted in 37 injuries and more than 100 arrests.
On March 8, 2011, Zdeno Chara’s late hit on Montreal’s Max Pacioretty resulted in a neck injury for the Canadiens player. Pacioretty suffered a concussion when Chara rode him into the boards and shoved his head into a stanchion. Pacioretty suffered a concussion and a fractured vertebra.
Some good did result, as the NHL mandated that stanchions be replaced with curved glass to lessen the blow.
Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs
— It’s the oldest rivalry in pro hockey and even predates the NHL. The teams first met on December 26, 1917. Nearly 800 games later, the Canadiens lead the series 389-314-88-8 (including the playoffs) and have met in the postseason 15 times, including five times in the Stanley Cup Finals. Interestingly, the Leafs have won three of those finals, but the last time came in 1967 and the two teams have not met in the postseason since 1979.
Even though the rivalry has cooled off on the ice, it has not between the two cities. On the one hand, there is Old World, French-speaking Montreal. At the other end of the spectrum is cosmopolitan, English-speaking Toronto. Quebec vs. Ontario. Sparks are inevitable.
Rangers vs. Devils
– It’s the battle of the Hudson River. The two teams play their home games just 10 miles apart from one another, but in those respective fan bases, it might as well be thousands of miles.
Name another NHL rivalry featured in a TV sitcom. The Rangers-Devils series was satirized during “The Face Painter” episode of “Seinfeld,” when a friend of Jerry’s — a hardcore Devils fan — paints his face red for a playoff game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
The most memorable series took place in back-to-back years. The 1994 Eastern Conference Finals saw the Rangers advance when Stephane Mattheau scored in double overtime in Game 7. New York went on to win the Stanley Cup.
The roles were reversed the following year, as the Devils won Game 7 of the Eastern finals and went on to capture Lord Stanley’s cup.
Penguins vs. Capitals
— These two teams don’t like each other. In February, a fight on the ice spilled inside the Pittsburgh bench. There is a memorable photo of Pengins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury swatting Capitals winger Joel Ward with his glove.
There also is the heated competition between Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin. Overhyped, perhaps, but a real rivalry nonetheless between two of the NHL’s marquee players, who clearly don’t like one another.
Before that, in 1992, the Penguins won their second Stanley Cup, rallying from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat Washington in seven games in the first round of the playoffs. n 2009, the Penguins came back from a 2-0 series hole to win and Eastern Conference semifinal series in seven games.
Oilers vs. Flames
— Provincialism is big in hockey, and Edmonton and Calgary is Western Canada’s version of Montreal-Toronto. It’s the battle of Alberta, and it began when the Flames moved from Atlanta to Calgary in 1980. The previous year, the Oilers joined the NHL from the World Hockey Association.
The two teams were the cream of the Campbell Conference. One or the other was in the Stanley Cup Finals from 1983 to 1990. The Oilers won five Cups during that period and the Flames won one.
Red Wings vs. Avalanche
— Fists flew and blood spilled when these two teams got together, particularly for a decade beginning in the mid-1990s.
The two teams combined for five Stanley Cup titles in a seven-year span (1996-2002) — three for Detroit and two for Colorado.
There were no pranks pulled on April Fools’ Day in 1998, when both teams were whistled for 228 minutes in penalties during Detroit’s 2-0 win. It also featured a battle of the goalies, as Colorado’s Patrick Roy traded punches with Detroit’s Chris Osgood.
On March 26, 1997, Detroit’s Darren McCarty blindsided Claude Lemieux late in the first period, sparking a brawl that yielded 18 fighting majors. McCarty bloodied Lemieux’s face and then dragged him along the ice for good measure.
McCarty received a double roughing minor, but scored the game-winning goal in overtime.
Rangers vs. Islanders
— The distance between the two teams lessens this season as the Islanders move from Nassau Coliseum to the Barclay Center in Brooklyn.
That won’t dampen the rivalry between these two metropolitan New York hockey franchises. The Rangers lead the regular-season series 123-110-19, but the Islanders own a 20-19 advantage in the postseason. The teams met each year in the postseason from 1981 to 1984, with the Islanders prevailing each time. The Islanders would win three Stanley Cups during that span.
Blackhawks vs. Canucks
— There is always a war of words between these two teams, but also some excellent hockey. Ryan Kesler once referred to Andrew Ladd as a coward. Dave Bolland has called the Sedin twins “sisters.” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault retorted that Bolland “has an IQ the size of bird seed and a face only a mother can love.”
The 2009 second-round playoff series, won by the Blackhawks in six games, was particularly intense. In Game 2 alone, there were 102 penalty minutes, including four game misconducts, six roughing calls, a slashing penalty and a cross-checking infraction.
Red Wings-Maple Leafs
— It’s an Original Six rivalry, and it’s been called “The Battle of the Windsor Corridor.”
It’s one of the longest and colorful rivalries in the NHL. Both teams have won 11 Stanley Cups.
This rivalry may have been rekindled with the defection of coach Mike Babcock, who led Detroit for 10 years and won a pair of Stanley Cups. But he signed an eight-year, $50 million contract to coach the Leafs.
Rangers vs. Flyers
— New York and Philadelphia have been rivals since the 1770s, so it’s only natural that the Rangers and Flyers would be rivals. IT’s just like football (Giants vs. Eagles), basketball (Knicks vs. 76ers) and baseball (Mets vs. Phillies).
Both teams are in the same division. Beginning in 1979, they played each other in the playoffs seven times over the next nine seasons.
On October 26, 1987, the Flyers’ Dave Brown cross-checked New York’s Tomas Sandstrom in the face, breaking his jaw and giving him a concussion.
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