The NHL's 10 Best Team Rivalries
If you've ever played competitive sports of any kind, you likely know the joy that comes with a very special kind of hatred generated by team rivalries.
The animosity that exists between rivals is born out of a strange mix of respect, dislike, malice and schadenfreude.
When this type of emotion exists between squads, what is usually a simple match-up between a home and an away team becomes nothing short of a battle between good and evil.
Of course, which side is which is always a matter of opinion.
But, for a player there is nothing better than facing off against a team populated with players you're quite certain you could murder in cold blood, and still have no trouble looking yourself in the mirror the next morning.
For NHL fans, the emotions generated by team rivalries are often no less intense than they are for the players.
If you've supported your team in an arch rival's barn, you know that fans of the other side have no qualms about publicly questioning your parentage, sexuality, intelligence or whether or not you know exactly where you can stick that jersey you're wearing.
Team rivalries, for hockey fans, do an almost impossible thing: they make the greatest team sport in the world, even better.
In general, one can trace a rivalry's roots to three sources: regional, divisional and, most often, the playoffs. In the best cases, rivalries are a mix of all three of these components, making every tilt between the two teams a must-watch event that's sure to feature some fireworks.
Bleacher Report has compiled a list of the 10 best current team rivalries in the NHL. However, it must be noted that this is not an actual ranking, rather, a compilation of the collective best.
To rank these rivalries one through ten would be an exercise in futility as, clearly, the best rivalry is the one you are a part of.
Some of these are the result of regional beefs, others emerged almost exclusively in the post-season.
Whatever their origins, whenever one of these games comes on the schedule, you can bet you're in store for a pretty damn entertaining hockey game.
With that said, feel free to make your case for whatever rivalry might be yours being the best of the bunch, just make sure to post it!
Honorable Mention - Vancouver vs. Chicago
Limiting the list of the NHL's best rivalries to 10 prevented the inclusion of the one that has just recently been created in the playoffs between the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks.
After being eliminated by Chicago in the second round of the playoffs the past two years, the Canucks and their fans have developed a big-time hatred for the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions.
But, as hot as some may think this rivalry to be, there's one thing that really prevents it from being counted among the best. Namely, Vancouver hasn't won a playoff series against Chicago. A true playoff-born rivalry requires at least one of both teams getting the better of the other, and, to date, the Canucks haven't made this happen.
Should these two teams meet a third-straight time in the 2010-11 playoffs, and Vancouver actually win, then bumping this one into top 10 status is a no-brainer.
Until then, it remains a simmering pot of potential.
Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh
The "Battle of the Keystone State" is a golden-oldie, dating back all the way to the first NHL expansion in 1967, the inaugural season for both of these teams.
This one is one of those rare and wonderful types of rivalries that stem from both regional, divisional and playoff related factors.
Statistically, the Flyers have the upper-hand in this rivalry as they own the best regular season, and playoff record between the two teams.
But, their meeting in the 2007-08 playoffs served as a turning point for the Pens as they beat the Flyers in the playoffs for the first time ever.
The following year, the Pens repeated the feat en route to their first Stanley Cup championship since 1992.
Still, beyond the playoff battles, the familiarity each team has with the other has bred more than a fair amount of contempt making even preseason tilts between these two rivals, something not to be missed.
The Battle of Alberta
You know you've got something special when a game between two teams is referred to by its own title.
Though both the Oilers and Flames have had their own struggles with consistency and success over the past few seasons, the rivalry that was white-hot during the 1980s (from 1984-1990, the Oilers won five Cups and the Flames won one, in 1989) is still a sell-out event in 2010.
This rivalry is based largely on the regional proximity between Edmonton and Calgary, as both are situated in the province of Alberta. As such, the rivalry between the two hockey teams has a great deal of longevity built into it as being a citizen of one city, by definition, makes you an enemy of the other.
Colorado vs. Detroit
There was a time when a game between the Red Wings and Avalanche was nothing short of a Biblical battle between the forces of the purest good and darkest evil.
Patrick Roy was Satan himself, and with Stevie Y playing the part of Hockeytown Messiah, his sole purpose was to vanquish him and the evil horde of demons that were his teammates.
From a walking turd named Claude Lemeiux (can you tell which side I was on?) cheap-shooting Kris Draper's face into the boards in the '96 playoffs, to the "Brawl in Hockeytown" the following season, to the epic seven-game battle between the two giants in the 2002 Western Conference Finals, there was not a greater or more bitter rivalry in all of sports than that that existed between the Wings and Avs.
That rivalry has cooled considerably over the past few years, due mainly to Colorado becoming an under-performing, marginally competitive team (ah, that felt good to say). However, there are still enough burning embers in the ashes of the once raging inferno to get this rivalry back on track.
All we need is another gutless play from an Avalanche player!
Toronto vs. Montreal
The oldest rivalry in the history of the NHL, the battle between Canada's two Original Six teams is one based as much on culture as it is on hockey.
With Toronto representing a largely British, English-speaking lineage among its citizenry and Montreal serving as a home away from home for French nationals, the battle over what defines a "true Canadian" goes back centuries.
The battle between the Leafs and Habs (a nickname based on defiant French-settlers referring to themselves as "les habitants" to declare themselves independent from French rule) doesn't go back quite as far, but, emotions still run high when ever these two teams meet.
Aside from the cultural, and regional basis for the rivalry, the two teams also have a long playoff history together, meeting 15 times total with the Leafs owning a slight 8-7 edge over the Canadiens.
However, the last postseason meeting was all the way back in 1978, making this rivalry primed for renewed vigor as the Maple Leafs continue their battle back to respectability in 2010-11 by aiming for a playoff berth, preferably against the hated "Les Canadiens."
Los Angeles vs. Anaheim
If you're sitting there wondering how the hell this qualifies as one of the NHL's ten best rivalries, well then, you've got a thing or two to learn about West Coast hockey.
The Kings have a long and storied history as one of the first expansion teams in the NHL.
From Marcel Dionne to Wayne Gretzky, the Los Angeles Kings have had some of the best players in NHL history don their sweater.
For the West Coast until Disney decided to turn a kid's movie into a hockey team in 1992, the Kings were the sole hockey attraction on.
Considered little more than a Disneyland side-attraction for their first few years in the league, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim slowly gained respect through the late 90s and early 2000s.
Their improbable run to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup finals in 2003 marked a turning point for the franchise and after being sold and renamed, simply the "Ducks" in 2006, the franchise looked to become the first California-based hockey team to win a Stanley Cup.
That they did just that filled every LA Kings fan with rage.
In the hipster, trendy, band-wagoner climate that is Southern California (trust me, I live here), cultivating an honest-to-God sports rivalry is a tall order.
But, the Kings and Ducks have done just that as every game between the two teams is always a sell-out and generates noise levels that dwarf what the Lakers produce on a nightly basis.
The Battle of Ontario
The rivalry between Ottawa and Toronto has perhaps the strangest history of any that exists in the NHL.
Hockey teams from Toronto and Ottawa, the Marlboros and Silver Seven, respectively, actually began battling each other before the formation of the NHL itself, with the latter actually winning the Stanley Cup in 1904.
However, the original Ottawa franchise folded in 1934 and for 58 years, Ottawans had no NHL team to call their own.
When the Ottawa Senators entered the NHL in 1992, they were placed in the Prince of Wales (now, Eastern) Conference, the Maple Leafs were in the Campbell (now, Western) Conference.
This meant the two teams rarely met each other, thus, stalling any renewal of a rivalry between the two Ontario cities.
But, after the conference re-alignment in 1998, the two teams found themselves not only in the same conference, but the same division.
From that point, the rivalry has exploded.
From bench-clearing brawls during the regular season, to vicious playoff battles between 2000 and 2004, these two franchises have come to dislike each other immensely, thus, making for some very entertaining hockey every time they meet.
Pittsburgh vs. Washington
Now, some would argue that this isn't truly a team rivalry, but more one that exists between the two biggest stars in the NHL.
But, when the two best players in the league are captains of their teams, the on and off-ice leaders and, clearly, don't like each other, the teams they lead are bound to get a hate on for one another.
Additionally, these two teams have history together beyond that that started with the arrivals of Ovechkin and Crosby to the NHL.
The Pens and Caps have met a total of eight times in the playoffs, with Pittsburgh posting a 7-1 record over Washington.
However, the best series to date his indeed come with Ovechkin an Crosby on the roster. En route to the Stanley Cup, the Pittsburgh Penguins met the Capitals in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The series featured an 0-2 comeback by the Penguins dual hat-tricks by Ovechkin and Crosby in Game Two, and a heart-breaking home loss in Game Seven at the Verizon Center.
These two teams aren't likely to fall from their status as two of the league's best anytime soon meaning this rivalry is likely to produce a few more thrills over the next few years.
Philadelphia vs. New York Rangers
This rivalry, as intense as it is, actually transcends hockey.
Be it the Mets and Phillies, the Giants and Eagles, or indeed, the Rangers and Flyers, a battle between two professional sports teams from New York and Philadelphia is no casual affair, even for the fans.
Though there is no shortage of venom spewed between the two teams on the ice, the stands themselves are awash in a sea of vulgarity, insults and epithets the likes of which would make make even the most world-weary sailor blush.
Divisional rivals since 1974, the Rangers and Flyers have met a total of 10 times in the playoffs, adding even more fuel to the fire that erupts between the two teams in their frequent regular season meetings.
As recently as last season, another historic salvo was launched between Philly and NYC, this time, in the last game of the regular season.
As both teams were battling for the eighth and final playoff spot in a winner-take all game, the Flyers beat the Rangers 2-1 in a shootout, the first such win to secure a playoff spot in NHL history.
You can bet the Rangers will be looking for some payback this season, any way they can get it.
Detroit vs. Chicago
In the history of the NHL, no two teams have met each other more times over the course of a season than the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings.
This historic rivalry has had cultivated decades of animosity and ill-will between both the franchises and the cities themselves.
Thus, making attending a game at the United Center or Joe Louis Arena a loud and hostile affair for any visiting fans foolish enough to show up in the opposing teams' jersey (you know, people like me).
The penny-wise, pound-foolish habits of former Blackhawks owner "Dollar" Bill Wirtz resulted in Chicago, and its fans watching from the basement of the NHL as Detroit won four Stanley Cups over the better part of the past two decades.
However, upon his death in 2007, the reins of the team were passed to his son Rocky, which immediately turned the fortunes of the long-floundering franchise.
Upon the arrival of draftees Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Chicago began to quickly emerge as a legitimate threat in the Central Division making the rivalry between the Wings and 'Hawks something much more than just a historical distinction.
The two teams renewed playoff acquaintances in 2008, with the Red Wings beating the Blackhawks in five games en route to the franchise's eleventh Stanley Cup.
Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall's devastating (but yes, legal) hit on Chicago forward Martin Havlat during this series infused new bad blood into the rivalry which still reverberates today.
As Chicago will enter the 2010-11 season as Stanley Cup champions, the motivation for Detroit to beat them out for the top spot in the Central Division will ensure that this newly rekindled rivalry will get even hotter throughout next season.
Boston vs. Montreal
So what do Jean Beliveau, Milan Lucic, Carey Price, Bobby Orr, and Maurice Richard all have in common?
They can all lay claim to the fact that they have all participated in what many believe to be the best rivalry in NHL history.
It is without a doubt the longest and most played match-up in NHL history as, counting regular season and playoff games, the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens have faced each other more times than any other two teams in the history of the NHL.
The Habs and Bruins have faced each other in a whopping 32 playoff series over their 86-year-old war with each other.
The fact that the Canadiens have won 24 of these series, is front and center in the minds of the Boston faithful every time these two meet in a seven-game series.
Boston is certainly striving for another Stanley Cup, but beating the Habs in the playoffs is still something the fans, and the team feel proud about hanging their hat on.
Although several conference and divisional changes have occurred over the course of this storied rivalry, the geographic proximity of these two cities has ensured that, regardless of how the league divides up the teams, Montreal and Boston will always see plenty of each other.
As a result, this rivalry has remained heated for decades and is likely to never fully die out.
The significance of this rivalry is not lost on the league itself as it made sure to schedule the game in Montreal celebrating the Canadiens' 100th season as a franchise against none other than the Boston Bruins (however, let's not give the NHL too much credit, how they could schedule the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park and not make it a Bruins-Canadiens game I'll never know).
Though some would argue that the Toronto-Montreal rivalry trumps the latter's perennial beef with Boston, one would be hard-pressed to find a more heated and storied rivalry than the one between the Big Bad Bruins and Le-Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge.