NHL rivalries, ice hockey

The greatest NHL rivalries

With the new season beginning in October, we’ve looked back at the league’s history to identify five of the greatest NHL rivalries.

In addition to comparing what each pair of teams have achieved against the other, we’ve also picked out the most memorable moments that have defined these long-running feuds.

Boston Bruins vs Montreal Canadiens

The rivalry between the Bruins and Canadiens is considered to be one of the greatest in sport and has lasted for almost a century.

Two of the Original Six franchises, they have faced each other more times than any other combination of teams in NHL history.

The Canadiens have maintained a comfortable edge in both the regular season and the play-offs, including a 13-game winning streak against the Bruins.

They have also won more Stanley Cups than any other team and four times as many as the Bruins.

The most infamous chapter in this rivalry was a violent on-ice fight in 1955 centred around Canadiens’ star player Maurice Richard.

While launching a retaliatory attack on Bruins’ Hal Laycoe – who had high-sticked him in the head – he punched a linesman unconscious and was suspended for the remainder of the season.

Outraged Canadiens fans rioted at their next home game in protest, causing extensive damage.

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Colorado Avalanche vs Detroit Red Wings

A single incident in May 1996 spilled over into one of the most brutal fights in ice hockey history and one of the most intense NHL rivalries to date.

Avalanche player Claude Lemieux lit the fuse by checking opposing Centre Kris Draper into the boards – in front of the Red Wings bench – with sufficient force for his victim to require facial reconstructive surgery.

When the two teams met the following March, it was unbridled chaos. There were nine fights in total – including one between the goaltenders – with Lemieux often the target.

Less than six months later, Lemieux and Red Wings’ enforcer Darren McCarty could barely wait until the opening face-off to renew hostilities, launching into each other immediately, to the delight of the crowd.

Calgary Flames vs Edmonton Oilers

Known as the ‘Battle of Alberta’, the rivalry between the province’s two largest cities has often played out on the ice. This peaked in the 1980s when the Flames and Oilers were vying for supremacy in the NHL.

All of Alberta’s six Stanley Cup wins came between 1984 and 1990, with the Oilers claiming five to the Flames’ solitary 1989 triumph.

One of the defining moments in this period was a birthday to forget for Oilers’ defenseman Steve Smith.

In game seven of the division final, with the score tied at 2-2, his reckless clearance cannoned off his goaltender’s leg and ended up in his own net.

Smith collapsed to the ice in horror and the Oilers went on to be eliminated. However, Smith’s team-mates stood by him and the team would go on to win the championship with him the following year.

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Ottawa Senators vs Toronto Maple Leafs

A recently-established Canadian feud began in the late 1990s following the modern Senators’ founding, although Toronto-Ottawa hockey rivalries predate the NHL itself.

The Senators have the upper hand over their more illustrious rivals in their regular-season meetings to date, but the Maple Leafs have prevailed twice as often when the two have contested play-off games.

A key flashpoint occurred over the span of just six seconds in 2002.

The Senators’ Daniel Alfredsson drew the ire of Maple Leafs fans after he slammed Darcy Tucker into the boards from behind, turning around in time to receive the puck and convert the game’s winning goal unpunished while his victim was still writhing on the floor.

Philadelphia Flyers vs Pittsburgh Penguins

The ‘Battle of Pennsylvania’ began when both teams were introduced to the NHL in the 1967 expansion and was rekindled in recent years thanks to regular meetings in the postseason.

While the Flyers have had the better of this contest overall, the Penguins have lifted the Stanley Cup more than twice as often.

When asked to nominate a defining moment in another of the great NHL rivalries, fans often point to the sixth game of a play-off quarter-final series in 2009.

The Penguins were ahead by three games to two but found themselves 3-0 down and in disarray during the second period.

Max Talbot took a huge gamble in attempting to raise his team’s spirits by picking a fight with Flyers enforcer Daniel Carcillo.

As expected, Talbot came off worse but while skating to the penalty box he raised a finger to his lips and shushed the cheering Philadelphia crowd.

The fans reacted and his team-mates rallied: a reinvigorated Penguins side fired in five unanswered goals to win the game and the series.

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