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Ranking the 10 Greatest NHL Playoff Rivalries in History

Steve SilvermanFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 5, 2017

Ranking the 10 Greatest NHL Playoff Rivalries in History

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    The Stanley Cup playoffs are dripping with history.

    Any playoff matchup can be compelling, but when rivals meet in the postseason, it ups the ante quite a bit.

    Some of the best rivalries are historical, while others are regional.

    Then there are those born of a magnificent hatred between the two teams. Here's our look at the 10 greatest rivalries in NHL history.

10. Montreal Canadiens vs. Quebec Nordiques

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    This rivalry came to an abrupt halt when the Nordiques moved west and became the Colorado Avalanche, but this was a hatefest from the time the Nordiques entered the NHL after starting off in the World Hockey Association.

    The Canadiens and the Nordiques met five times in their history, and the Canadiens took three of the playoff series.

    These teams were fighting the battle of Quebec, the battle of the haves vs. the have-nots

    They also simply hated each other.

    The 1993 meeting was the last in the series. The Nordiques won the first two games, but the Canadiens roared back to take the final four. They took the impetus from that series to win the Stanley Cup. The Canadiens have not raised Lord Stanley's chalice since then.

    The most infamous moment took place in 1984, when the Nordiques and Canadiens engaged in the infamous Good Friday Brawl. There were 10 ejections and 252 minutes in penalties, according to TSN.ca.

9. Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks

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    This is one of the more modern playoff rivalries. While they met once in the 1980s and once in the '90's—with each side winning once—it wasn't until 2009 that the rivalry hit its stride.

    The instant the two teams faced each other in the '09 playoffs, there was a hatred. The Blackhawks would win an emotional series in '09 and '10, and Chicago would go on to win the Stanley Cup following the second victory.

    It was starting to look like the Canucks would never find a way to beat the Blackhawks, but they were a dominant team in 2011. The Canucks had won the President's Trophy and they were motivated to take revenge on the Blackhawks. They raced out to a 3-0 lead and it looked like they would sweep the defending Stanley Cup champions.

    However, the Blackhawks were incensed after a hit by Raffi Torres on Brent Seabrook and they used that motivation to win the next three games in the series.

    The Blackhawks sent the seventh game into overtime, but when Alex Burrows intercepted a Chris Campoli pass and blasted it into the net, the Canucks had finally slayed the Blackhawks.

8. Ottawa Senators vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The Battle of Ontario became a playoff mainstay in 2000 and the two teams would meet four times in the next five seasons.

    The Senators had been a struggling expansion team for many years, but they finally earned their first playoff win in 1998 when they beat the New Jersey Devils.

    After that, their playoff history was tied to the Maple Leafs.

    The Senators have lost all four postseason meetings, but they have always been compelling matchups. The 2002 series was one of the NHL's most memorable. The Sens opened the series with a 5-0 victory in Toronto, but the Leafs responded with a triple overtime win on home ice as Gary Roberts scored the decisive goal.

    The two team split one-goal victories in Ottawa, and the Senators took control of the series with a 4-2 victory in Toronto thanks to a special performance by Daniel Alfredsson. However, the Leafs came through with a come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Senators in Ottawa in Game 6 and they blanked the Sens 3-0 in Game 7.

    The two teams have not met in the postseason since 2004, but the seeds of their hatred are felt every time the two teams share the ice.

7. Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings

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    The rivalry between the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings is an unlikely one, but it produced two of the most dramatic moments in NHL history.

    In the 1981-82 season, the Oilers were a young team that would soon become a dynasty. They were still growing up in the 1982 playoffs. They entered their first-round meeting with the Los Angeles Kings as prohibitive favorites. The Oilers had 111 points during the regular season, while the Kings had just 63 points.

    The two teams met in an opening round, best-of-five series. The Kings scored a shocking 10-8 win in the opener. The Oilers bounced back with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 2. The Oilers finally found their stride in Game 3 and raced out to a 5-0 lead.

    However, the Kings would find a way to tie the game late in the third period and win it in overtime (video above). The game would become known as "The Miracle on Manchester."

    The Kings would lose Game 4, but finished the upset in Game 5 in Edmonton.

    The rivalry reached new heights after Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Kings by the Oilers after the 1987-88 season. Gretzky would lead the Kings to a 4-3 triumph over the Oilers in 1989 in one of the strangest and most emotional series ever waged in the NHL.

    Despite those two memorable wins by the Kings, the Oilers lead the all-time playoff series 5-2.

6. New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders

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    The New York Rangers and the New York Islanders have a rivalry that has been relatively dormant in recent years, but it once was one of the most heated battles in league history.

    The geography of two New York teams battling each other is a big part of it, but it is not the whole story.

    The rivalry is steeped in the humiliation factor. The Islanders were an expansion team in 1972-73 and they were historically bad that season. However, they quickly made strides and earned a playoff spot two years later.

    Their first-ever playoff opponent was the New York Rangers in the 1975. The Rangers were heavily favored in the best-of-three series. The Islanders would win Game 1 at Madison Square Garden, but the imperious Rangers rolled to an easy 8-3 victory at the Nassau Coliseum in Game 2.

    The Rangers thought they would get another blowout in Game 3, but the Islanders pushed the game to overtime. The Rangers were sweating badly heading and with good reason. J.P. Parisé of the Islanders scored just seconds into the extra session and ended the Rangers' season.

    The Islanders have won five of the eight series between the two teams.

    The Rangers' best moment in the rivalry came in 1979, when they defeated the Islanders in six memorable games in the semifinal round. The Rangers would lose in the Stanley Cup Final to the dynastic Montreal Canadiens.

5. Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    These two teams may have been expansion brethren in 1967-68, but there has been little but hatred flowing between the two teams since then.

    The two teams have met six times in the playoffs and the Flyers have come out on top four times.

    Perhaps the most memorable matchup came in 2000 when the Flyers recorded a six-game triumph. The Flyers went into the fourth game of the series trailing 2-1 and the two teams battled long into the night in Pittsburgh.

    The game wasn't decided until late in the fifth overtime, when Keith Primeau whipped a shot over the shoulder of Penguins goaltender Ron Tugnutt to give the Flyers a 2-1 victory.

    The Penguins would not recover and lost the remaining games in the series.

4. Colorado Avalanche vs. Detroit Red Wings

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    This has been a high-quality rivalry that hit the big-time in the 1996 playoffs.

    The Colorado Avalanche had just moved to Denver and immediately became a serious contender.

    They would beat the Detroit Red Wings in their first playoff meeting in six games. The Avs would go on to win their first Stanley Cup, beating the Florida Panthers in the finals.

    The Avs and Red Wings would meet again the following year, and the Red Wings would get the victory this time. The Red Wings would go on to win the Stanley Cup over the Philadelphia Flyers.

    That end result has become a pattern in the Detroit-Colorado series. The winner of the series has gone on to capture the Stanley Cup five times.

    The Red Wings have won four of the seven series between the two teams and have won the Stanley Cup three times after beating the Avs.

3. Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers

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    This was once one of the defining rivalries in the NHL.

    From 1983 through 1990, either the Oilers or Flames played in the Stanley Cup Finals.

    The two teams met five times in the playoffs, and the Oilers dominated by winning four of the matchups.

    However, it was the Flames' victory over the Oilers in the 1986 division final that is the most memorable.

    The tight series came down to the seventh game and the score was tied 2-2 in the third period when defenseman Steve Smith began a rush for the Oilers. He attempted to pass the puck from behind his own net and it banked off Oiler goalie Grant Fuhr for a Calgary series-winning goal.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens

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    Overall, the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs have met 15 times in the postseason, with the Canadiens winning eight of them.

    Only two of the meetings have come since the 1967-68 expansion. The Canadiens swept the Leafs in 1978 and '79, and they have not met since.

    The Maple Leafs have won four of the six meetings in the Stanley Cup Final, including the 1967 matchup by a 4-2 margin.

    As Leafs fans know by birthright, that was the team's last Stanley Cup title.

1. Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins

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    The Montreal Canadiens have engaged the Boston Bruins in the postseason more than any other two NHL teams.

    These two Original Six rivals have a long history, and the series has been owned by the Canadiens.

    They have recorded a 24-9 edge in the series, and many of their victories have been classics.

    Perhaps the series is best defined by the 1979 playoff meeting. The Canadiens had won the three previous Stanley Cup championships and they had a magnificent team that featured Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson and Ken Dryden, with Scotty Bowman behind the bench.

    The Bruins did not have the same level of talent, but Don Cherry's Lunchpail A.C. team was one of the hardest working and most effective teams in the NHL. The Bruins featured Wayne Cashman, Jean Ratelle, Rick Middleton, Stan Jonathan and Brad Park.

    The two teams each won at home through the first six games and there was little reason to think the Bruins could win Game 7 at the Montreal Forum. However, Middleton scored with less than four minutes to go to give the Bruins a 4-3 lead.

    They could smell victory, but they never were able to enjoy it. The Bruins were hit with a "too many men on the ice" penalty and Lafleur took advantage with a perfect slap shot that tied the score. The Canadiens would win in overtime on a goal by Yvon Lambert.

    The Bruins would not beat the Canadiens in a playoff series until 1988. That ended a 45-year drought against the Habs.

    The Bruins have won seven of the last 11 postseason meetings between the two teams.

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