You don’t get to win a league-leading 24 Stanley Cups without making a few enemies along the way. Still, the Montreal Canadiens rivals of yesterday aren’t necessarily the most hated today. Here are the top five entering the 2015-16 season.
5. Colorado Avalanche
Even after the Quebec Nordiques moved to Colorado, the rivalry between the two franchises wouldn’t die. Granted, Patrick Roy being traded there and immediately winning a Stanley Cup had a little something to do with it. Admittedly, since his retirement the pot representing the feud between the two sides hasn’t exactly boiled over.
Still, there’s always pride on the line when these teams meet one another as evidenced last pre-season when Montreal and Colorado faced off in Quebec City, with the latter serving as the home team and the Habs getting booed.
It may be a token selection to round out this list, but until Quebec gets a new team the Avalanche will arguably always be the Nordiques to them. The Canadiens will meanwhile always be hated. Likely until the end of time.
4. Ottawa Senators
Even though it has taken some time for this rivalry to pick up steam since Ottawa gained the expansion Senators in 1992, the two teams have obviously been making up for lost time.
Everyone remembers the P.K. Subban slash on Mark Stone in Game 1 of their first-round series this past spring.
Before that incident, there was the Eric Gryba hit on Lars Eller back in 2013 and the Senators’ eventual, embarrassing five-game victory.
It’s no Battle of Ontario. That’s for sure. Mainly because Ottawa has actually won a round. Nevertheless, the shorter geographical distance between Ottawa and Montreal has made for a natural rivalry that right now might actually be even more vicious.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
Many might expect the Maple Leafs to hit the No. 2 spot on this list (or even No. 1). However, the truth is while a Saturday night game between these two teams is always justifiably hyped up, the rivalry isn’t what it once was due to a lack of playoff matchups in recent years (or playoff berths… Toronto).
Okay, the two admittedly haven’t faced each other since 1979, so it’s not all on the Leafs (any excuse to bring up the one postseason appearance since 2004… and how that one ended of course). However, that just further proves there has to be more to a rivalry besides being No. 1 and 2 in terms of Stanley Cup victories.
And, for the record, considering the difference in championship victories between the two teams is the same total amount the No. 3 Detroit Red Wings have won (11) it’s a distinction that really doesn’t mean all that much. It’s not like they’re going to realistically catch up any time soon.
In fact, add up the number of championships between those top three teams (24 + 13 + 11). That’s the amount of years it’s been since Toronto last won.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
After the league’s division realignment, there have almost been three consecutive sweeps between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens.
Montreal got one during the first round of the 2014 playoffs (with Tampa admittedly being short an injured Ben Bishop). Tampa returned the favor last regular season, going 5-0. This spring, the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the their second-round series before Montreal eventually forced a decisive Game 6.
With these two teams projected to battle it out for the top two spots in the Atlantic once again, another season sweep is realistically out of the question. However, another second-round series? There’s a very good chance of that.
Even before the move into the same division, Tampa always gave the Habs fits with nearly a .500 all-time record against them. To put that in the proper perspective, Montreal has an all-time 303-150-103 record against the Chicago Blackhawks (as of the 2013-14 season).
It’s justifiably another Original Six team that takes the top spot as a result. You can probably guess which one.
1. Boston Bruins
A 106-71 Montreal “edge” in the playoffs means very little (aside from the seven Stanley Cup victories against the Bruins of course). The truth is, since the turn of the century, it’s actually been a much closer 4-2 record for Montreal.
Granted, that amounts to a higher winning percentage, but still… few can deny even moving on against Boston is physically and emotionally draining. After each of those four victories, the Habs got eliminated in the very next round, most recently against the New York Rangers in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final, following an seven-game comeback victory over Bruins.
That series was best known for Carey Price’s spectacular play (.936 save percentage) and P.K. Subban and the Habs as a whole “taking away” all the energy from Bruins fans in Game 7 after having to deal with racist tweets following his double-overtime winner in the opener. Meanwhile, the previous time they faced each other, in 2011, Boston came out on top and went on to win it all.
Between Zdeno Chara breaking Max Pacioretty’s neck earlier that season and former-Bruin Milan Lucic taking liberties on Alexei Emelin more recently, the rivalry between these two teams rarely fails to entertain, often at the risk of personal injury to the players. And this year they’ve got a bigger stage on which to play: their very own Winter Classic.
Even the players take it all seriously, with Lucic going so far as to (metaphorically) spit in the face of the longstanding tradition of the handshake line back in 2014. Despite his threats, this past season was fairly tame, with notable occurrences between the two teams kept to a minimum.
All that means is they’re due for another.