Sunday, September 25, 2005
Updated: October 29, 12:15 AM ET
Part II -- Top rivalries
The NHL is Starting Over, trying to recapture what makes hockey great. In a five-part series, ESPN.com remembers what made it that way in the first place, hockey's players, rivalries, teams, games and enforcers.
The recipe for a great rivalry includes a measure of time, a healthy dose of hatred and more than a little blood. If you can throw in some politics, slights (real or perceived), and some shared geography, so much the better.
They're the kinds of confrontations which make fans and players alike pore over the NHL schedule, looking for the nights when those teams clash.
They're the kinds of confrontations that inject a level of intensity and excitement into the mundane and everyday.
Historically, the rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs was fueled by the distinct differences in the Canadian societies of English and French Canada. Even though the threat of Quebec separating from Canada has faded, there remains an electric atmosphere when the two teams square off.
The Battle of Alberta between the Oilers and Flames has always embodied the Western Canadian spirit, more rough and tumble than big-city sophistication.
For sheer hatred, it's hard to top the rivalry between the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche during the mid- to late 1990s, a clash of the new kids on the hockey block and a long-suffering Original Six franchise.
And of course, there's the almost instinctive hostility between fans of the New York Islanders and the Blueshirts from Manhattan.
Some rivalries blossom and then fade, often dependent on the fortunes of the teams involved. But just as one rivalry fades from view, the blood will begin to boil between others, sending fans and players back to the schedule to circle the next time they meet.
Here, in no particular order, we celebrate the rivalries:
Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens (circa 1970s)
|Nothing says rivalry more than Patrick Roy's bout with Mike Vernon.|
We have to start off this list with one of the rivalries that was created within the Original Six. Although both teams played each other for years, it wasn't until the 1970s -- when both teams were equal contenders -- that the rivalry picked up fire. One bitter memory for B's fans was Game 7 of the 1979 Wales Conference finals. The Bruins held the lead into the closing minutes until the infamous too-many-men-on-the-ice call buried all Boston hopes. Guy Lafleur would later score the tying goal, the Habs would win in overtime and advance to the Cup finals. Later, the Canadiens would eliminate the B's in the first round in the 2002 and 2004 postseasons.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens
An axis on which the hockey world always spins, the rivalry dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. Still, the bitter enemies were at each other's throats during the 1950s. The Leafs entered the decade trying to defend their Cup win heading into the 1951-52 season, but wouldn't win it all again until 1962. Meanwhile, the Canadiens went on one of the most impressive championship streaks in all of sports, winning five straight Cups (1956-60). Outside of Chicago's win in 1961, either the Habs or the Leafs won the Cup over the next eight seasons. Later, the rivalry took on new meaning when former Habs goalie Ken Dryden took over as president of the Maple Leafs and fought to get the two teams in the same division. Dryden once told The Sporting News: "You had the feeling that [fans] delighted in being at each other's throats."
Battle of Ontario
The Leafs-Habs rivalry began to fade after years of not meeting in the postseason. And after both Toronto and the expansion Ottawa Senators each climbed out of competitive ruts, a new rivalry was born. Many Sens fans were ex-Leafs supporters, while others in Ottawa Valley remained loyal to Toronto. Camped in the same division, both teams play often during the regular season. But the playoffs have added extra sting to this matchup. From 2000-04, the two squared off four times with the Leafs winning every series.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Colorado Avalanche (circa 1990s)
Some of the most physical and memorable playoff rounds came between these two West rivals during the 1990s. The war officially began in 1996, when Claude Lemieux hit Kris Draper into the boards in the 1996 conference finals. The one hit sparked a huge rivalry (the first year the Avalanche were in Denver, they beat the Red Wings and won their first Stanley Cup). A year later, Wings goalie Mike Vernon and Avs netminder Patrick Roy fought at center ice after Darren McCarty tried to tempt Lemieux to fight. Even coaches Scotty Bowman and Marc Crawford threatened to fight in the 1997 postseason. Other moments: a second goalie bout between Roy and Chris Osgood, and Lemieux and McCarty dropping the gloves after an opening faceoff.
New York Islanders vs. New York Rangers
Even preseason games between the two teams have been known to spark near-riots in the stands, let alone on the ice. The Islanders were long considered the underdog in the metro area, but that all changed with the Dynasty of Long Island. The Isles won four straight Stanley Cups (1980-83) and eliminated the Rangers in every year from 1981-84. Blueshirt fans had to endure chants of "1940!" -- the last year the Rangers had won the Cup -- from Isles fans until 1994. After sweeping the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs and sending coach Al Arbour into retirement, the Rangers went on to hoist the big trophy. Regardless of how either team is faring, when they face each other, fans exchange traditional, um, chants. Another infamous incident came in 2003, when Rangers and Islanders fans, dressed in Santa suits, started a brawl on the ice during what started as a harmless holiday celebration at Nassau Coliseum before a game vs. the Flyers.
Battle of Alberta (circa 1980s)
Call it Montreal-Toronto West. During the 1980s, the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames housed some of the best players in history. Unfortunately for the Flames, they had to contend with the Great One. Edmonton edged Calgary in the Smythe Division finals in 1983, 1984 and 1988, winning the Cup two of those three postseasons. Steve Smith's own-goal gave Flames fans some vindication in 1986 as they edged the Oilers, but Calgary would only win the Cup in 1989, a year they did not meet Edmonton in the postseason. With the Flames sporting arguably the league's best player in Jarome Iginla and the Oilers' revamped lineup, the Battle will be extra sweet this season.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Another in-state battle, one that is more recent. In the 1988-89 postseason, the Flyers spoiled a stellar season for Mario Lemieux, who won the scoring title with 199 points. The Penguins lost to Philadelphia in seven games, dropping the last two games by a combined score of 10-3. But these two teams can't play anymore without someone bringing up the game. The game started on May 4. It ended about seven hours later, at 2:35 a.m. In between, the Pennsylvania rivals played 2½ games -- 60 minutes of regular time and 87 minutes of overtime -- riveting hockey with the Flyers' Keith Primeau scoring the winner to tie the East semifinals series at two games apiece. It was the third-longest game in NHL history.
Dallas Stars vs. Edmonton Oilers
After a while, fans just expected these two West rivals to meet in the playoffs. The Stars and Oilers have met in the playoffs six of the last eight seasons, with Dallas winning the past five. The best series was 2001, when four games in their first-round series went into overtime. In Game 5, Mike Modano even returned after taking a puck to the nose. The Stars went on to win. Since 1997, the Oilers and Stars have played 33 playoff games against each other, 22 of those games were decided by one goal and nine went into overtime. The teams also reflected the rift between Canadian clubs and deep-pocketed American teams of the old NHL. While the Oilers struggled to maintain a $30 million payroll in 2002-03, the Stars' salary was double that.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Quebec Nordiques (circa early '80s)
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings
After ousting the Canadiens in the 1982 postseason, the Battle of Quebec intensified in 1984 with the "Vendredi Saint" brawl. Then, the two teams battled back and forth in the Adams Division. Each team also beat the other in back-to-back seven-game playoff series. Quebec fell out of playoff contention for a few seasons, but fought back in the early 1990s, boasting a lineup that included Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan and Joe Sakic. The "Northerners" ended their playoff drought during the 1992-93 season, but fell to Montreal in the first round. Three seasons later, the Nordiques moved to Colorado.
Another Original Six pairing. The hatred goes all the way back to the 1933-34 season, when the Blackhawks denied the Wings the Cup behind the heroics of goalie Chuck Gardner. The Red Wings would go on to win many Cups of their own with the help of that Mr. Hockey guy. But during the 1960s especially, if either team wanted to win the Cup, they had to go through each other. The rivalry lost steam over the last decade because of the Blackhawks' decline, but that could change this season.