In the NHL, rivalries between teams tend to result in the most entertaining displays of hockey.
Rivalries can be fueled by a number of different aspects; such as the proximity of two teams, past regular season or playoff matchups, or even the actions of single players within a given game. The annual Stanley Cup Playoffs are when rivalries tend to heat up to their most spectacular level, as the competition between rival teams is at its greatest, bringing an increased level of intensity and competition.
This competition between two fierce rivals typically brings about games which are remembered for years to come. However, rivalries tend to run in an enduring cycle. A rivalry such as the one between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens has historically been one of hockey’s greatest, yet in recent years has died down, largely in part due to the lack of success on the part of the Maple Leafs. While on the other hand, a historic rivalry such as that between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins has been reborn in recent years due to the successful play of both teams, who have consequently met one another in the playoffs several times in the past few Stanley Cup Playoffs.
All in all, rivalries tend to result in a distinct brand of hockey which is ripe with strong physical play, highlight real goal scoring, spectacular goaltending and is never short of controversy. It is these aspects of rivalries which produce the most entertaining and mesmerizing hockey.
That being said, lets take a look at the most intense and competitive, current rivalries in the NHL.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
The battle of Pennsylvania has become one of hockey’s best rivalries over the past few years. It has become a spectacle of the fierce competition between two of the game’s best players, in Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux, and great teams as both have enjoyed relatively consistent success in recent seasons.
Rivalry History: The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers rivalry has become one of the greatest current rivalries, largely as a result of the frequent playoffs matchups between the two teams. In 2008, the teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals. The penguins claimed the series in five games and moved on to the Stanley Cup Finals, in which they ultimately lost to the Detroit Red Wings.
In 2009, the teams met once again, this time in the first round, with Pittsburgh once again taking the series, this time in 6 games. Stemming from their 2008 playoff meeting, the rivalry really started to heat up. The series was filled with physical play and timely scoring, as well as huge saves from both Marc-Andre Fleury and Martin Biron. In game six, the Flyers held a 3-0 lead in the second period when a poorly timed fight took place between Daniel Carcillo and Maxime Talbot. The Flyers forward had no reason to engage Talbot, with both the lead and momentum in Philadelphia’s favor. The fight energized the penguins squad, who scored three times in the period while adding another two in the third to seal the series win.
Most recently, the Penguins and Flyers re-ignited the battle of Pennsylvania in the first round of the 2012 NHL Playoffs. It was this series which brought this rivalry to the forefront as one of the most intense and exciting in the NHL. The series was preceeded by an April 1st regular season showdown, a hard fought game filled with intense and plenty of both penalties and fights. The emotions from this game carried over to the first round playoff matchup, fueling an intense series characterized by physical play, goal scoring and fighting.
The 2012 Playoff matchup caught the eye of every NHL fan. 45 goals were scored in the first four games of the series, an NHL record, consisting of 8-5 and 8-4 Flyers’ victories, and a 10-3 Penguins win. In a matchup in which the Penguins were considered the favourite, they were outplayed by their cross state rivals, leading to an excess of physical play, all of which came to a head in game 3.
Then things really got ugly. With the Flyers holding a commanding 7-4 lead, James Neal delivered a late hit to Sean Couturier, forcing him out of the game. It was this hit that set things off, as the final five minutes were fight filled, bringing the combined penalties to a 158 minute total.
Following the game, three Penguins players received suspensions, while Coach Dan Bylsma was also disciplined. The Flyers went on to win the series in six games, but were eventually eliminated by the New Jersey Devils in the Conference Semi-Finals.
It is these playoff matchups which have led largely to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers becoming one of the greatest current rivalries in the NHL. When these two teams play, an intense, competitive game is not only expected, but almost always occurs. The prolific goal scoring, goaltending, and most importantly physical play is what makes this rivalry one of the greatest in the NHL today.
Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens
The rivalry between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens is one that has been re-ignited over the past few seasons. These two original six teams have become fierce rivals, stemming largely from playing in the same conference throughout the past 50 plus years, as well as from their tendency to matchup against one another in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Rivalry History: Meetings between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens have been common throughout history. The two teams have matched up 34 times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, an NHL record, with 25 of which having been won by the Canadiens. In recent history, meetings in the playoffs have remained common, as the two rivals have faced off 4 times in the past 7 post seasons, the most recent of which coming this past post season in what may have been the most highly contested and controversial meeting of all. The following video delves deeply into the historical rivalry which exists between these two teams, stretching from the days of the great Rocket Richard to present day:
In 2008, the Bruins and Canadiens faced off in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs; a highly contested series won by Montreal in 7 games. The series was both intense and competitive, as the Canadiens stormed out to a 3-1 series lead. However the Bruins showed the resiliency the have become known for throughout history, winning games five and six to force a game 7. Unfortunately for Bruins fans, the Canadiens capped off the series with a 5-0 win, ending an impressive comeback bid by Boston.
The following season saw the two rivals meet once again in the first round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However this time it would be a different story, as the Bruins, who placed as the first seed in the Eastern Conference, swept away the Canadiens in four games, outscoring their rival 17-6 in the series. All four games were marked by physical play, as the two teams fought early and often, setting the tone for the series. However, a much stronger Bruins team was able to dominate the smaller Canadiens team with their size and strength from the start, advancing past Montreal to the Conference Semi-Finals in which they were eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Once again, the two teams met in the first round, this time in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Boston faltered in the opening of the matchup, dropping both games at home to start the series, scoring only one goal. The two teams eventually wound up at a game seven. Boston jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but the Canadiens fought their way back to a tie, highlighted by a Tomas Plekanec short handed, breakaway goal. After the Bruins once again took the lead, young defender P.K Subban tied the game late with a blast from the point, as the Canadiens refused to go away quietly. However, with the game in overtime, Nathan Horton beat goaltender Carey Price to win the series for the Bruins in seven games, as Boston went on to win the Stanley Cup. On the Bruins road to the cup, Montreal was arguably the hardest team which the Bruins faced. The Canadiens played a similar, physical style of game to the Bruins, and in matching their style, were able to compete with the eventual champions.
The most recent playoff matchup between the two teams took place this past year, in the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was likely the most hard fought and intense series in the entire playoffs, as the series ran to seven games. Big hits, fights and frequent goal scoring characterized this epic matchup, which saw 36 goals scored between the two clubs. One of the major storey lines in the series was the rivalry between Bruins forward Milan Lucic and Canadiens forward Dale Weise. Emphatic, borderline disrespectful goal celebrations by the two players seemed to further ignite the intense play between the two teams, as the series saw no shortage of chippy, physical play. Ultimately, the Canadiens fought off the Bruins, taking the series in seven games, yet the series was still far from over. In the handshake line, Lucic made unsportsmanlike comments to Dale Weise, which will likely influence this rivalry for years to come.
While in no way was what Lucic did right; his actions, as well as those of all the players in the series, cemented the Boston and Montreal rivalry as one of the most intense, dramatic and entertaining in the NHL. As we’ve seen, the emotions of previous matchups tend to carry over into future meetings. With that being said, look for this historic rivalry to remain as one of the fiercest for years to come.
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings
The battle for California has emerged as one of the best rivalries in the NHL today. Unlike the two rivalries we’ve discussed previously, the battle between the Sharks and Kings is a more recent development. Having played one another 41 times since the 2010-11 season, the most of any two teams in the NHL in that time, its not surprising that a heated rivalry has emerged in the pacific.
Rivalry History: The history between these two combatants is relatively short, but is in no way lacking in any category, whether it be offense, defense, goaltending, or most notably, intense, physical play. This rivalry is essentially only four years young, getting its start in the 2011 NHL Playoffs.
In 2011, the Sharks and Kings met in the first round of the playoffs. San Jose entered having secured the second seed, while on the other hand, the Kings placed seventh. Despite the Sharks being the heavy favourite, the Kings played a resilient series of hockey, forcing three games into extra time. The intensity began to ramp up heading into the second game of the series, which featured big hits and frequent fights. Game three was the turning point of the series. Down 4-0 early in the second period, the Sharks stormed back to capture a 6-5 overtime win, becoming the fifth team to win a playoff game while trailing by four goals. Physical play was then quickly replaced by impeccable defense and stellar goaltending, as both teams, the Kings in particular, were forced to play highly skilled hockey in order to take the series. In the sixth game, a Patrick Marleau overtime goal clinched the series victory for the Sharks, a matchup which featured a handful of the games most skilled players and goaltenders.
In the 2013 NHL Playoffs, the era of dominance by the Kings, and heartbreak of the Sharks, began. Rather than display raw strength and physicality as seen in 2011, both teams instead displayed strong defensive play as well as goaltending, as only one game in the series featured more than three goals scored. This second round meeting heavily emphasized the role of both unique cities, who battled one another for the dominance of hockey culture in California. Heavily influenced by home crowds, the home team won each game played in this series, resulting in the Kings, who had home ice advantage, winning the series in seven games.
Most recently, this rivalry was re-ignited this past post season, with the Sharks looking to respond to their 2013 elimination at the hands of the Kings. The first round matchup began with the Sharks claiming each of the first three games to take a commanding lead in the series. San Jose was successful largely due to their ability to focus strictly on playing hockey, rather than engaging in scrums and after the whistle fights. However, in game four, and for the remainder of the series, the Sharks were taken off of their game by the Kings, who played a strong physical and defensive game, frustrating the Sharks.
From there on it was all Kings. Los Angeles went on to win the final three games of the series, dominating the Sharks in relatively all aspects of the game, as the Sharks were only able to score 2 goals in the final three games of the series. The Kings became the fourth team to win a playoff series when trailing by three games to none in NHL history.
The frequent postseason meetings between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, along with their geographic proximity to one another, have contributed to one of the more recent, yet great rivalries in the NHL today. The offensive skills of players on both teams, quality goaltenders, the ability to play shutdown defense and to intimidate with physical play are traits which have made this recent rivalry one of the most intense and entertaining in recent history. Given the history between these two teams and their annual success, it is more than likely that the Sharks and Kings will meet in the playoffs once again in the near future, providing fans with a highly skilled and physical brand of hockey.
Are there greater rivalries than these in the NHL today? Leave a comment!
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at email@example.com.