- National Hockey League rivalries
Rivalries in the National Hockey League (NHL) have occurred between many teams and cities. Rivalries have arisen for many different reasons, the primary ones including geographic proximity, familiarity with opponents, on-ice incidents (violence), and cultural, linguistic, or national pride.
The importance of these various factors has varied widely throughout the history of the league.
During the earliest days of the NHL, the league was limited strictly to Central Canada, and all cities in the league were in close proximity, making for bitter rivalries all around. In addition, Montreal had two teams representing its English-French divide, as the "French" Canadiens battled the "English" Wanderers (and later the Maroons). Rivalries also existed with other leagues, such as the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA). It was not until 1926 that the NHL took over sole ownership of hockey's top trophy, the Stanley Cup. By that time, the league had begun expanding into the United States, and new rivalries were created. Rapid expansion into the U.S. for a short time created a cross-town rivalry in New York City between the Rangers and the Americans. The economic turmoil of the Great Depression and the Second World War, however, forced several teams to fold, with the result that by 1942 the NHL consisted of only six teams.
Original Six rivalries
From 1942 to 1967, only six teams (the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs) played in the NHL. With so few opponents, teams played more frequently, and games were often underscored by personal rivalries between players. These personal and team rivalries persisted over many years, as the turnover rate on NHL rosters was very low. At one point or another, during this era, all the teams had animosity towards one another.
Battle of the Jersey Turnpike: New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers
The rivalry between the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers has become quite intense in New Jersey itself, sometimes being referred to as the "Battle of the Jersey Turnpike." Devils supporters reside mostly in the northern part of the state, while the southern part of the state is dominated by Flyers fans due to South Jersey's close proximity to Philadelphia. The Flyers practice in Voorhees Township, New Jersey, and since their Stanley Cup championships of 1974 and 1975, many members of those Cup-winning teams (as well as other Flyers alumni) have lived in South Jersey. Since the conferences were realigned and renamed prior to the 1993–94 season, the two teams have won the two highest numbers of division titles (the Devils having won nine and the Flyers six). Together, the two teams' 15 division championships account for almost all of the 17 total Atlantic Division titles.
Battle of the Keystone State: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Philadelphia Flyers–Pittsburgh Penguins rivalry began in 1967 when the teams were introduced into the NHL's "Next Six" expansion wave. The rivalry exists due to divisional alignment and geographic location, as both teams play in the state of Pennsylvania. The Flyers lead the series with a 137–87–30 record. However, the Penguins have eliminated the Flyers from the playoffs in 2008 and 2009—their most recent postseason meeting, strengthening the rivalry.
Battle of New York: New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders
The Islanders-Rangers rivalry, also unofficially known as the "Battle of New York," is unique among New York City's major league sports, as the Rangers and Islanders are in the same conference and division, guaranteeing plenty of matchups. The Major League Baseball's New York Yankees and New York Mets are in different conferences, as are the National Football League's New York Jets and New York Giants, so the only meeting opportunities are during intra-league or championship games.
Broadway vs. Broad Street: New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers–New York Rangers rivalry (also commonly referred to as the Battle of the Broads or Broadway versus Broad Street') is one of the most storied and well known rivalries. The Rangers and the Flyers have met ten times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the Flyers winning six of the series, and they have been division rivals since the 1974–75 season.
There is a long-standing bitter rivalry between the sports fans from the cities of New York City and Philadelphia, which are approximately two hours apart by car, seen also between the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies in Major League Baseball and the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles in the National Football League. Games between the two teams at both Madison Square Garden and Wells Fargo Center are often very intense, hard-hitting affairs, as each home crowd does its best to create an unfriendly and sometimes volatile atmosphere for any visiting-team fans.
Hudson River Rivalry: New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers
The New York Rangers–New Jersey Devils Rivalry (Hudson River rivalry), exists between two teams in the New York metropolitan area. The two teams are called "cross-river rivals." This is because Madison Square Garden in Midtown Manhattan, where the Rangers play, is less than ten miles and across the Hudson River from the Prudential Center in downtown Newark (and previously, the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford), the home arena of the Devils. Travel between both arenas is easily accomplished by both road (usually through the Lincoln Tunnel) and rail (along the Northeast Corridor).
Battle of Ontario: Ottawa Senators vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Battle of Ontario is a rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators, often described as one of the top NHL rivalries. The teams compete in the same division and meet frequently during regular season games and Stanley Cup playoffs.
Battle of Queen Elizabeth Way: Buffalo Sabres vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Battle of the QEW is a rivalry between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs. This is due to the close proximity of the two cites and their connection via the Queen Elizabeth Way. The distance from the south end, the HSBC Arena from downtown Buffalo, New York, and the north end, the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto are 145 kilometers or 89 miles from each other. Since the 1998–99 season, both teams have played in the Northeast Division.
Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens
The rivalry between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens is considered "one of the greatest rivalries in sports," along with the Yankees – Red Sox and Bears–Packers rivalries. The two teams have played each other more times, in both regular season play and the playoffs, than any other two teams in NHL history.
As of the 2010–11 season, the Bruins have won 259 of these matches, scoring a total of 1,885 goals against the Canadiens, with the Canadiens winning 343 of them, scoring a total of 2,160 goals against the Bruins, with 103 other games between the two teams ending in ties, all before the 2004–05 NHL lockout's rule changes mandated the "shootout" format to break such tie games, going back all the way to the Bruins' first NHL season of 1924–25. In the playoffs, the two teams have met in 33 series for a total of 164 games, 10 series and some 47 more games than two other Original Six teams, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. The two teams have faced each other 8 times in Game sevens, more times than any other opponents in NHL history.
Buffalo Sabres vs. Ottawa Senators
The Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators have had a strong rivalry since after the 2004–05 NHL lockout, when both teams were vying for the Northeast Division title. Ottawa generally had the upper hand on Buffalo during regular season games, but Buffalo usually would beat them in the playoffs. The best-known game in this rivalry was one that occurred on February 22, 2007, which included a large fight that included both goaltenders and verbal sparring between the two coaches (Buffalo won the game 6–5).
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens
The rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens is the oldest rivalry in the history of the National Hockey League. From 1944 to 1978, the two teams met each other in the playoffs 15 times, and faced off in five Stanley Cup Finals. While the on-ice competition is fierce, the Leafs-Habs rivalry is actually symbolic of the rivalry between Canada's two largest cities: Toronto and Montreal.
Battle of the Sunshine State: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning are both teams located within the state of Florida, representing different geographical areas within the state. The two teams have played in the same division since 1993 (Atlantic Division from 1993-1998 and Southeast Division since 1998). Despite the Lightning outperforming the Panthers in many ways, including winning the Stanley Cup, the Panthers hold a dominating series record of 55-28-10-7, the best record the Panthers have against any team in the National Hockey League.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals
The Pittsburgh Penguins—Washington Capitals rivalry is an intra-division rivalry. In total, the two teams have met eight times in the playoffs. Despite trailing in 7 of the 8 series, Pittsburgh has won all but the 1994 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals where they were heavily favored. The teams first met in the 1991 Patrick Division Finals, when the Penguins defeated the Capitals in five games, en route to capturing the Stanley Cup. The rivalry was intense during the early 2000s when the Penguins beat the Capitals in the first round in consecutive seasons (1999–00, 2000–01). More recently, with the drafting and emergence of Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin in Washington, and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, the rivalry has heated up again, with controversial comments that Semin made about Crosby in the media and physical altercations taking place between Ovechkin and Malkin during games. One of the best series to date between the teams was the 2009 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, in which the Capitals took a 2-0 series lead before letting it go once again to be downed in seven games, ending with a 6-2 game seven loss at Verizon Center. The two teams faced off at the 2011 NHL Winter Classic hosted in Pittsburgh at Heinz Field, with the Capitals emerging victorious 3-1.
There are significantly fewer major rivalries in the NHL's Western Conference, due to that conference being much younger (the conference as a whole was created in 1967, and only two of the conference's teams-- Chicago and Detroit-- predate the conference's creation) and its teams generally are, geographically speaking, spread much farther apart than those on the East Coast. (See East Coast bias for a more in-depth explanation of this phenomenon.)
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings
The rivalry between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings is the most intense rivalry in the Central Division. It has existed since 1926–27 and continued from the Original Six days into the present. These two clubs have faced each other in more regular season games than any other two clubs in NHL history, except for the total number of regular season and playoff matches between the Bruins and Canadiens.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues
The Blues—Blackhawks rivalry features the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues. Since 1970, the two teams have been in the same division together. It is the most intense rivalry in terms of penalty minutes and fighting. It was not uncommon to go to a Chicago vs. St. Louis game and see a brawl break out.
Battle of Alberta: Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers
The Battle of Alberta is the bitter rivalry between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. The two teams are based in the cities of Edmonton, the provincial capital of Alberta and Calgary, the province's largest city. Most often it is used to describe sporting events between the two cities, although this is not exclusive as the rivalry predates organized sports in Alberta.
Calgary Flames vs. Vancouver Canucks
The rivalry between the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames of the Northwest Division has its roots in the stark geographic, political, and economic differences between Vancouver and Calgary, the two largest cities in Western Canada. The two cities are separated by the barrier of the Rocky Mountains, with Vancouver surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the peaks of the Coast Mountains, and forests and Calgary sitting on an expanse of flat prairie. The Rockies serve as not only a geographical barrier but a political one as well: Vancouver is a haven for the political left in Canada, strongly supportive of both the Liberal and New Democratic political parties, while Calgary has been a bastion of right-wing politics since the province of Alberta's creation and is a stronghold for the Conservative Party.
Prior to the turn of the millennium, the Canucks and Flames faced each other during the first round of postseason play in 1982, 1983, 1984, during the Flames championship season of 1989, and 1994, with Calgary holding a 3-2 margin. The latter two series were decided in seven games by overtime goals (Joel Otto for Calgary and Pavel Bure for Vancouver) and coincidentally both managed to reach the Stanley Cup Finals during those seasons (with Calgary winning the cup in 1989).
In the early and mid nineties, the rivalry was considered among the most intense in the NHL, with the two teams often battling for top spot in the Smythe and later Pacific Division. However, it started to fade soon afterward as both teams started to sink in the standings in the late 1990s.
It was during the 2003–04 season when the rivalry re-ignited, with the Canucks and Flames constantly battling for top spot in the Northwest Division along with the Colorado Avalanche. When Canucks captain Markus Naslund and Flames captain Jarome Iginla developed into two of that era's greatest players, the rivalry became one of which team had the better overall leader. Between the beginning of the century and Naslund's departure from the Canucks in 2008, the spotlight would often be featured on both he and Iginla whenever the teams matched up. During the 2001–02, the two found themselves competing for the Art Ross Trophy for the league's highest point scorer. The following year, both players were featured in a Nike commercial promoting the rivalry between them.
These two teams met again during the first round of the 2004 postseason, and, just like in 1989 and 1994, the series-winning goal was scored in overtime in game seven by Calgary's Martin Gelinas (who was a member of the 1994 Canucks team that reached the Stanley Cup Finals). The Flames advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, however, unlike 1989, they were defeated in the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.
The subsequent trade by Vancouver for elite netminder Roberto Luongo in June 2006 gave the Canucks a capable opponent to Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff, who has already established himself as one of the top goalies in the NHL. Players from both teams bring out their best when they play against each other, resulting in games of high entertainment value. In addition to the duel between Luongo and Kiprusoff, matchups between former Vancouver defenceman Willie Mitchell and Flames captain Jarome Iginla were also noteworthy.
Year Where they met in playoffs Result of series Result of playoffs 1982 Smythe Division Semifinals Van 3, Cal 0 Vancouver swept by the New York Islanders in Cup Finals 1983 Smythe Division Semifinals Cal 3, Van 1 Calgary beaten by the Edmonton Oilers in the Smythe Final in five games. 1984 Smythe Division Semifinals Cal 3, Van 1 Calgary beaten by the Edmonton Oilers in the Smythe Final in seven games. 1989 Smythe Division Semifinals Cal 4, Van 3 Calgary wins Cup. 1994 Western Conference Quarterfinals Van 4, Cal 3 Vancouver loses to New York Rangers in Cup Finals, which like the series against Calgary, went the full seven games. 2004 Western Conference Quarterfinals Cal 4, Van 3 Calgary loses to Tampa Bay in Cup Finals, which like the series against Vancouver, went the full seven games.
Freeway Face-Off: Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings
The term Freeway Face-off refers to a series of games played between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. The series takes its name from the massive freeway system in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, the home of both teams; one could travel from one team's arena to the other simply by traveling along Interstate 5. The term is akin to the Freeway Series which refers to meetings between the Los Angeles area baseball teams.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks
The rivalry has become more heated in recent years, given three straight years of playoffs series between these teams. The first seeds of the rivalry began with a mock surrender by then-Canucks coach Roger Neilson over what he deemed as questionable officiating during the 1982 Campbell Conference Finals, which began the Towel Power tradition in Vancouver and elsewhere in the NHL. Vancouver prevailed in the series four games to one, but only to lose to the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Finals in four straight games.
Although the Blackhawks swept the Canucks in the 1995 Western Conference Semifinals, it was not until the 2008–09 season where the rivalry was once again renewed. This was highlighted by Canucks' Ryan Kesler accusing then-Blackhawk winger Andrew Ladd of being a "coward" after an on-ice hit. With Chicago eliminating Vancouver in the second round of the playoffs consecutively in 2008-09 and 2009-10 (and won the Stanley Cup in the later season), these two teams met again for the third straight year in the first round of the 2010-11 playoffs where the Vancouver Canucks finally defeated Chicago, in seven games. In this series, the Canucks took a three games to none series lead, but after a hit by Canucks forward Raffi Torres on Hawks defenceman Brent Seabrook from behind the Chicago goal in Game 3 (which brought Hawks captain Jonathan Toews to say, "It's just concrete evidence of how much we dislike that team, and it's added motivation to our situation"), only to lose the next three games straight. In the seventh and deciding game, the Blackhawks tied the game in the final minutes, sending the game to overtime. In overtime, Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows intercepted a clearing attempt by Blackhawks defenceman Chris Campoli and scored on a slapshot to secure the overtime and series victory for the Canucks, en route to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Battle of Quebec: Montreal Canadiens vs. Quebec Nordiques
The Battle of Quebec is the nickname for a former National Hockey League (NHL) rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and Quebec Nordiques. The rivalry lasted from the 1979–80 to 1994–95 seasons. The teams played against each other five times in the NHL playoffs, and the Canadiens won three of the series. One meeting, in 1984, resulted in the Good Friday Massacre, a game in which multiple brawls happened. The Battle of Quebec extended to politics, in which the Canadiens and Nordiques became symbols for rival parties, and beer distribution, as the teams were both owned by competing breweries.
Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings
The rivalry between the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings began more or less the instant the Oilers began playing in the NHL in the 1979–80 season. Among the first year Oilers' players included a young Wayne Gretzky, who instantly challenged for the Art Ross Trophy against the Kings' Marcel Dionne. In the end, Gretzky and Dionne were both tied with 137 points, but the award was given to Dionne, who had two more goals (53 vs. Gretzky's 51). It should also be noted that Gretzky played 79 games to Dionne's full count of 80. Gretzky remarked during a press conference at which the scoring title was awarded to Dionne that he had been taught "that an assist was good as a goal."
The two teams would not meet in the playoffs until the 1981–82 season. That season, Gretzky shattered the NHL record books with points in a season with 212 (92 goals and 120 assists). The Oilers also jumped to the top of their division despite playing in their third NHL season and had the third best record in the league. The Kings, after a fairly impressive 1980–81 season, slumped to having the fifth worst record in the 21 team NHL. They only made the playoffs, being fourth in the same division as the Oilers, because the Colorado Rockies had an even worse record in their last season there. This set the stage for the top-seeded, heavily-favored Oilers to meet in the first round against the Kings. After a two-game split in Edmonton, Game 3 in Los Angeles began with a commanding Oilers 5–0 lead after two periods. But in a miraculous comeback, the Kings managed to tie the game 5–5 in the third period, scoring the tying goal with 5 seconds left on a two-man advantage. The Kings would later win the game 6–5 in overtime. This game is often referred to as the Miracle on Manchester. The Oilers struck back in Game 4 to send the series back to Edmonton for the deciding game in a best of five series. However, it was the Kings who upset the Oilers and advanced to the next round.
For the next two seasons, the Kings would miss the playoffs completely while the Oilers competed in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1983 and won their first Stanley Cup in 1984. Both finals were played against the dynasty New York Islanders. The two teams finally met again in 1985, but this time the Oilers defeated the Kings in three straight games. The Oilers would go on to win their second straight Stanley Cup. They met again in 1987 under a new best of seven playoff format for the first round, and again the Oilers would win, this time in five games, and again the Oilers went on to win the Stanley Cup. In 1988, the Kings were again blown out of the first round, but by the Calgary Flames, while Gretzky led the Oilers to another Stanley Cup.
The entire world of sports was shocked on August 9, 1988 upon the announcement of the Oilers trading Wayne Gretzky along with Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley, to the Kings for two rising young players (Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas), three first-round draft picks, and $15 million.
Gretzky would lead the Kings in the 1988–89 season to vast improvements. For the first time, the Kings had a better season record than Edmonton, finishing second in the Smythe Division over the third place Oilers. This also led to another first round match up between the Kings and Oilers. This time, it was the Kings, with Gretzky, against the Oilers, and the Kings also had home ice. The Oilers first took command of the series and jumped ahead three games to one above the Kings. But Los Angeles answered back with three straight wins to win the series against Edmonton.
In the next three playoff meetings between the two teams, the Gretzky-led Kings would be eliminated by his former teammates in four, six, and six games respectively. Edmonton also won another Stanley Cup in 1990 after sweeping the Kings in the second round.
After the 1990–91 season, the rivalry would die down as players from the Oilers would move to other teams. Jari Kurri and Charlie Huddy would rejoin Gretzky on the Kings and go on a playoff run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993, losing to the Montreal Canadiens in five games. Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Adam Graves, Craig MacTavish, and others would move to the New York Rangers and go on a Stanley Cup winning run in 1994, which was the last hurrah for the great Edmonton team of the 1980s. In that series, Messier became the first to captain two teams to the Stanley Cup, something Gretzky couldn't do with the Kings the year before.
Battle of New England, Boston Bruins vs Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes
The rivalry was first started before the two teams ever met on the ice when the Bruins "blocked" the WHA merger in 1979 because "The Whalers were in their territory". They first played with each other in the 1979-80 season with the Bruins flourishing against the season while the "expansion" Whalers were awful that year. They played the Bruins 2 of their 3 times in their history of the playoffs. The rivalry got to a heating point when Cam Neely and Ulf Samuelsson would fight on a regular occasion, It got to a point where Ulf hit Neeley in the knees in the 1991 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Ulf was traded to the Penguins earlier that season. At the Hartford Civic Center, usually when the Bruins would win the Whalers fans would fight Bruins fans on Ann St in Downtown Hartford. The rivalry came to an end in 1997 when the Whalers relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina where they play to this day. But on some occasions there would be fights or an occasional and in 2009 The number 1 ranked Bruins were knocked out by Carolina in 7 games in the second round.
- Inline citations
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