Rivalries make sports that much more fun to watch and the NHL is no exception.
When two bitter rivals face off against each other, it can spellbind the fans and keep them on the edge of their seats. It makes an already competitive game that much more intense and it also makes for appointment television (or at least DVR television nowadays).
So which two teams have the nastiest rivalry in the NHL today?
In order to determine who these bitter rivals are, we have to look at things like the amount of times that the teams fight when they play each other, the quality of their games, if there’s a recent history of trash talking through the media and last, but certainly not least, if there’s a recent playoff history between the two teams.
After all, nothing speeds up a rivalry and multiplies the intensity between two teams like an old-fashioned playoff war, even if there isn’t as much fighting in the playoffs.
On the other hand, geography and the hatred between fan bases do very little to help the intensity of a rivalry, as much as some delusional fans would like to think otherwise.
Let’s be honest. We live in an era of pro sports where very few players were actually raised anywhere near the city they play in, so they could probably care less about an old-time geographic rivalry that is forced by the media and a bunch of fans drinking and yelling at each other in the stands (or over the Internet nowadays).
However, if a rivalry that was started on the ice has caused a new hatred to develop between two fan bases, then that’s another story, and there are certainly a few examples of that in the NHL right now.
So with the ground rules out of the way, let’s countdown the nastiest current rivalries in the NHL that have developed over the last few seasons.
At the risk of angering certain fan bases over their team not being included on this list, here are a few other good rivalries that didn't quite make the cut as one of the top 13:
Toronto vs. Montreal
Los Angeles vs. Anaheim
There is a growing rivalry between all three of the California-based NHL teams, but the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks has become the most significant and probably the nastiest over the last few seasons.
Players like George Parros and Sheldon Brookbank from the Ducks have routinely taken on the likes of Frazer McLaren and Ryan Clowe over the past few seasons, including a game last season that featured six fights.
The teams also met in the first round of the playoffs back in 2009 when the eighth-seeded Ducks upset the top-seeded Sharks, which may have been the starting point for the recent hatred between the two teams. That series featured three fights, one of which was between Joe Thornton and Ryan Getzlaf of all people.
There’s something about this rivalry that always seems to bring out the best in the Ducks as well. This season is the perfect example of that as Anaheim already has three thrilling one-goal victories over San Jose, despite the Sharks being 17 points ahead of the Ducks in the standings.
Oh, and don’t forget the dead duck that someone threw on the ice during a Ducks-Sharks game in San Jose this past Boxing Day.
Some may think this rivalry between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals only got amped up as a result of the playoff series between the two teams last season.
However, the Lightning and Capitals have been division rivals for a while now, and the amount of fisticuffs thrown between the two teams over the last couple of seasons proves it.
In 2010-11, four of the six games between the two teams included at least one fight and two of the three games so far this season have also included fights. This speaks volumes when you consider that both teams have been in the bottom half on the league in team fighting majors over the last two seasons.
The games this season have also been extremely close as they’ve all been decided by one goal, two of which ended in overtime or a shootout.
Of course, the 2011 playoff series, in which Tampa Bay swept Washington, only intensified this already strong Southeast division rivalry.
Here’s the curveball of this list.
For better of for worse, one of the biggest stories of the 2011-12 NHL season has been the Montreal Canadiens hiring a coach that doesn’t speak French.
From the French speaking media to the province of Quebec’s culture minister to just about every Francophone in Montreal, there was a public outrage that included a protest in the weeks that followed the organization's decision to hire Randy Cunneyworth as the interim head coach after GM Pierre Gauthier fired Jacques Martin back in December.
Cunneyworth has become the unfortunate poster boy for every complaint from the angry Francophone fans about how the organization runs its business largely in English as opposed to French.
Apparently, speaking a language that is only spoken in one small part of North America in which only one of the 30 NHL teams exists is more important to these people than winning hockey games.
Then again, the team is called the Canadiens, which is the precise definition of a Francophone Canadian. So perhaps the organization should be a bit more sensitive to its history and the culture of the fans that drive its business.
Regardless of which opinion is right or wrong, the last six weeks have proven that an English-speaking coach just won’t cut it for the Francophone hockey fans in Montreal, and it has created a rivalry that goes beyond just hockey.
With several other heated games in between that series and the Milan Lucic-Ryan Miller incident, it’s not a secret that these teams don’t like each other.
Even though the Bruins have a huge advantage over the Sabres in the toughness department, this didn’t stop Paul Gaustad and Robyn Regher from stepping up and taking it on the chin against Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara in defense of their goaltender.
The hatred from the Sabres to the Bruins has definitely been made public this season, but Buffalo isn't the only team that feels that way about Boston as you’ll see if you keep reading.
Note: The video on this slide contains foul language
As intense as the Sabres-Bruins rivalry has become recently, the Philadelphia Flyers are an even nastier rival to the Bruins.
The build-up to the 2010 NHL Winter Classic definitely helped reignite this rivalry, and the proof was when Shawn Thornton and Dan Carcillo braved the cold weather and got together for the only fight in Winter Classic history. You know you have a rivalry on your hands when two players are willing to throw the knuckles on the frozen artificial pond.
But what really makes this rivalry great is the playoff meeting between the two teams in each of the last two seasons.
In 2010, the Flyers pulled off one of the great comebacks in sports history, defeating the Bruins 4-3 in the second round after trailing 0-3. It was the first time an NHL team had accomplished such a feat since 1975. Clearly this angered the Bruins, because in 2011 they got sweet revenge by sweeping the Flyers 4-0 in another second-round battle between the two teams.
This season, the Bruins and the Flyers continued to wage war on each other during a blowout victory for Boston in which there was plenty of rough stuff. Three fights ensued, one of which was a heavyweight tilt between Zdeno Chara and Jody Shelley.
Both Philadelphia and Boston certainly have their share of tough guys who play with a physical edge, which is why you haven’t seen the last of either team on this list.
This classic rivalry of Original Six teams was reignited during the Blackhawks' return to the playoffs in 2009.
Detroit and Chicago have always been accustomed to battling it out in the regular season as they play in the same division. But their 2009 Western Conference Finals matchup reminded hockey fans everywhere why it’s good for the game to have these two storied franchises as Stanley Cup contenders and as rivals yet again.
The 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in Chicago also helped stir the pot in this rivalry, along with the fact that the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, just two years after the Red Wings took home the Cup themselves.
Last season, the Red Wings nearly knocked the Blackhawks out of the playoffs by defeating them on the final day of the regular season. Fortunately for the Hawks, the Dallas Stars also lost that day, securing their playoff spot. However, the Red Wings battled as hard as they could to keep Chicago out of the playoffs, even though it was a meaningless game for Detroit.
If you ever want to find out what great hockey is all about, just sit down and watch the next game between these two teams. They play fast, they play smart, they control the puck better than most other teams in the world and they certainly play with emotion and intensity when they face each other.
While geography shouldn’t be focused on too much in this rivalry, it’s impossible to ignore when considering these two Pennsylvania rivals. More important than geography, though, is the fact that the Penguins and Flyers are two Stanley Cup contenders that just don’t like each other.
The Penguins have been near the center of the Flyers' radar ever since they returned to prominence back in 2006-07, when they won all eight regular season games between the two teams.
One year later, Pittsburgh defeated Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the year after that they knocked out the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. To make a long story short, there are plenty of reasons for the Flyers' players and their fans to hold a grudge against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.
In fact, the Philly faithful was probably the only fan base that unanimously hated Crosby during his first few seasons, when the majority of other fans marveled at what “The Next One” was bringing to the table. They’ve started anti-Crosby Facebook groups and have even referred to him as Cindy Crosby when making accusatory remarks about his whining.
Don’t think this has been lost on the players either. Many Penguins have openly admitted to being extra motivated every time they play in Philly in order to shove it in the fans' faces. Every game between these two teams is heated and many have been plain nasty.
Their playoff series in 2009 featured four fights, the most of any series over the last three years, and there were two controversial biting accusations during Flyers-Pens games in the 2009-10 season.
This season, two key players from the Penguins' recent and not-so-recent past (Maxim Talbot and Jaromir Jagr) have switched sides in this rivalry to join the Flyers, which has angered many Penguins fans.
There’s a very realistic chance these two teams will meet in the playoffs at some point this season, so get ready to add another chapter to this heated in-state rivalry.
Some may think this rivalry is overrated and forced by the NHL.
I can’t argue with the fact that the NHL has definitely pushed the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins into the spotlight, but the rivalry certainly has some substance to it and is far from overrated.
Since their epic 2009 second-round playoff series that went seven games and officially launched a new edition of their rivalry, the Penguins and Capitals have engaged in plenty of wonderful regular season battles to keep the rivalry going strong.
There have been plenty of storylines involving these two Eastern Conference contenders: the clash between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin; the hat trick by Ovechkin in an overtime victory for Washington in 2010; the game this season where Aaron Asham knocked Jay Beagle unconscious in a fight and then made a controversial sleeping gesture to the Capitals' bench afterwards.
The superstars have done some verbal jousting through the media, but the rivalry goes beyond just Crosby and Ovechkin. While both teams respect each other, there’s certainly a competitive hatred between every player on both rosters. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has even blocked Penguins fans from buying tickets to Capitals games over the Internet, and the tension has trickled down to both teams' AHL affiliates.
To make a long story short, this is still a great rivalry, even though it may have calmed slightly since Crosby got injured and Ovechkin fell off his previously rapid scoring pace.
Let’s not forget how Crosby’s concussion problems began, though. It was a blind-side hit at the 2011 Winter Classic against, you guessed it, the Washington Capitals.
The Red Wings and Sharks are two of the most talented hockey teams in the world and are perennial Stanley Cup contenders in the Western Conference. This has made for two outstanding playoff series between the two teams in 2010 and 2011, with the Sharks coming out on top both times.
In particular, the 2011 series was an epic masterpiece that saw the Sharks take a 3-0 series lead, only to have the Red Wings fight back and force a marvelously played Game 7 in San Jose that was decided by just one goal. In fact, six of the seven games in that series were decided by just one goal, proving how evenly matched the two teams are.
These teams might not have a recent history of trash talking or fighting, but their playoff battles alone make their rivalry one of the best in the league.
The 24/7 Road to the Winter Classic between the Rangers and Flyers reminded hockey fans why this rivalry is among the best in the NHL.
The Winter Classic itself may have been exciting, as the one-goal victory for the Rangers featured a Flyers penalty shot in the dying seconds. However, the build-up to that game showcased the real evidence of the hatred between these two teams, which is why it’s so high on this list.
Flyers tough guy Zac Rinaldo called Rangers sniper Brandon Dubinsky a coward in a war of words that has gone back and forth between both players. Meanwhile, Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds allegedly shouted a homophobic slur at Rangers agitator Sean Avery in a preseason game between the two teams.
Brandon Prust described the hatred between the two teams as being so strong that every game is like the playoffs because it’s just that competitive.
The two teams haven’t met in the playoffs in the post-lockout era, but the Flyers did defeat the Rangers in a winner-take-all game on the final day of the regular season in 2010, with the loser being eliminated from the playoffs. The game needed to be decided in a shootout and it ended up being the beginning of a great run for the Flyers as they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
If this was the game that sparked this nasty rivalry, it’s been taken to the next level this season with the endless parade of trash talking both on the ice and through the media. Just ask Tom Sestito and Brad Richards (foul language warning).
While the Sharks and Red Wings playoff battles over the last two seasons have certainly been fun to watch, the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks have become even fiercer combatants due to their recent playoff history.
The Canucks and Hawks have waged war in the playoffs not once, not twice, but three times in the last three years. In 2009 and 2010, the Blackhawks were victorious in a pair of series that featured some dirty hits and showboating that was not forgotten.
However, in 2011 the Canucks got their revenge in arguably the most compelling No. 1 vs. No. 8 playoff series in sports history. The Canucks' reward for winning the President’s Trophy in the regular season was their nemesis and the defending Stanley Cup champions. Vancouver took a 3-0 series lead, before the Blackhawks battled back to tie it up at three games apiece. Game 7 went to overtime and couldn’t have ended in a more dramatic fashion as Alex Burrows exorcised the Canucks' demons against their Western Conference rivals.
This rivalry has also featured plenty of fights and physicality, which may have been what really started the hatred between the two teams to begin with. On March 29, 2009, the two teams engaged in an all-out brawl that featured three separate fights. This set the stage for the first of their playoff meetings that would follow.
In addition to the playoff wars and the rough stuff, the Canucks and Blackhawks have also engaged in their share of trash talk through the media. Just this season, Hawks pest Dave Bolland and Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault waged a war of words in December after Bolland made a few inappropriate jokes about the Sedin twins. Dan Carcillo also called out the Canucks when he first signed with the Blackhawks over the summer.
Even when the teams don’t engage in physical or verbal battles on the ice, they still manage to excite the fans with brilliant games like the Canucks' 3-2 overtime victory just a few days ago that saw only two minor penalties called in the entire game. So there isn’t really a single element that’s missing from this epic rivalry. If you’d like to read an even more detailed breakdown of this rivalry over the last three years, you can do so by clicking here.
This is another rivalry that goes back many years between two Original Six teams. However, we’re focusing on the current rivalry between the Canadiens and Bruins, which itself includes plenty of history and bad blood in just four short years.
In 2008, the teams met in the opening round of the playoffs with the Habs as the top seed in the East and the Bruins as the No. 8 seed. The series ended up being a nail-biter and went to a seventh game after the Bruins won a wild Game 6 that featured six goals in the third period. Montreal ended up winning the series, but it set the stage for a complete role reversal in 2009, when the Bruins were the top seed and the Habs were the eighth seed. The only difference was that Boston swept Montreal out of the playoffs that year.
In 2011, the Bruins and Habs waged war yet again in the first round of the playoffs in yet another wonderful seven-game series that needed overtime in Game 7 to decide the outcome. In the end, it was Bruins forward Nathan Horton that ended the series and sparked the Bruins run to Stanley Cup glory.
The rivalry certainly doesn’t end with the playoff battles, though. Anyone who has followed some of the bigger brawls and the more controversial hits over the last couple of seasons can tell you that the Canadiens and Bruins have been at the center of it all on many occasions.
In particular, a 2011 regular season game between the two bitter rivals that turned into one donnybrook after another clearly showcased the hatred between them. If that wasn’t enough, then how about the personal rivalry between Milan Lucic and Mike Komisarek or the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty?
There has also been plenty of trash talking in this rivalry. Brad Marchand called the Habs a bunch of divers; Mark Recchi suggested that Pacioretty embellished his injury after being hit by Chara; Andrew Ference did the talking with his middle finger during a playoff game in Montreal. Clearly, this rivalry has it all, and you can read a detailed analysis of it by clicking here.
You could argue that this is still the best rivalry in the entire NHL, but clearly I believe there’s one that’s even better.
You could argue that these teams don’t play enough to warrant the distinction of the top rivalry in the NHL, but can you find two teams in the league that come close to hating each other as much as the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins do right now? Not a chance.
In fact, the lack of regular season games this season between the Canucks and Bruins might actually help the rivalry because it creates a level of anticipation and allows the bad blood to boil in the players' veins before there’s a chance to settle any longstanding grudges. This was certainly the case in the months between the conclusion of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and their one and only meeting of the regular season that turned out to be a physical war that featured a mini-brawl, two fights and a clipping suspension by Brad Marchand.
This rivalry may be the newest of any of the rivalries on this list, but it’s also the most significant because of the stakes the two teams were playing for when the rivalry began.
That Stanley Cup Finals series was the nastiest in a long time. From the Burrows biting incident to both teams rubbing their hands in each other’s faces to Aaron Rome injuring Nathan Horton followed by Johnny Boychuk injuring Mason Raymond, the entire series was brutal.
This along with the aforementioned regular season game last month have led to more trash talking incidents that even I can keep track of. There was the war of words between both coaches over the Marchand clipping suspension, the interview in which Mark Recchi called the Canucks the most arrogant team he had ever played against and probably a dozen other vitriolic comments between the players and coaches of both teams.
The physicality is nasty, the trash talking is nasty and the battles on the ice have been nasty. But the games have also been meaningful over the last nine months between the Canucks and Bruins, which makes them the nastiest rivalry in the NHL for the time being.
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