Rivalries are one thing, but an NHL rivalry? That’s a whole new breed of competition. Most leagues don’t see as many heated rivalries as the NHL does as it can be hard to compete with the grit that hockey packages along with the game.
The NHL has seen some of the most unruly rivalries filled with everything from violent glove drops on the ice to fan gags in the stands. There aren’t many leagues that handle rivalries the old-fashioned way like hockey does, which is part of what makes the rivalries that much more exciting.
Here, we’ll take a look at the NHL’s Top 5 heated rivalries that haven’t simmered down, and don’t seem to be in danger of doing that any time soon.
Montreal Canadiens Vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Canadiens-Maple Leafs rivalry is the oldest feud in the NHL and its roots can be traced back to 1917. The rivalry originated largely due to the age-old rivalry between Canada’s two largest cities and, hockey being Canada’s sport, it makes sense that two of the Original Six teams of the NHL would become rivals.
The Canadiens and the Leafs have faced off in the playoffs 15 different times since 1917, including five times in the Stanley Cup Finals before the two teams were lumped into the same division/conference.
The rivalry doesn’t end here though as the Canadiens and the Leafs have had their fair share of bench brawls and in-game chirping. Let’s not forget 2013 when Maple Leaf Mikhail Grabovski bit Canadien Max Pacioretty during a fracas in the third period of their matchup.
Every now and then someone tries to ‘end the rivalry’ with an analysis of who the ‘winner’ is after all this time, especially regarding Montreal’s recent successes and Toronto’s disappointing seasons up until 2016-17. No matter which team has more success rivalries like this one won’t quit.
The rivalry is so rooted into these teams by now that no matter what happens, the fans and the players will continue to carry the torch for generations.
Boston Bruins Vs. Montreal Canadiens
The rivalry between the Boston Bruins and the Canadiens is believed to be one of the most heated rivalries in sports. The rivalry has been alive and passionate since the teams first met in 1924 with the most recent spike coming this year when Boston fired head coach Claude Julien and the Canadiens quickly hired him.
The Bruins and the Habs have met in more games than any other two NHL teams in both the regular season and in the playoffs, with 34 playoff matchups over the course of their histories. The Bruins and the Habs never waste time with their fiery rivalry and have fallen subject to several bench brawls, coach thefts and fan fights.
Unlike the Canadiens and the Leafs, the Bruins and the Canadiens don’t have any solid, geographic reason behind their rivalry other than the fact that they hate each other and one always wants to have the upper hand.
Don’t forget the scuffle that led to a goalie fight between Carey Price and Tim Thomas in 2011 and the brawl that spilled into the locker room in 1986. These two teams hate each other and the players have expressed how even they know that this rivalry won’t leave their teams or their fans any time soon.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to enjoy all the grit that comes packed into every Bruins-Canadiens matchup.
Detroit Red Wings Vs. Colorado Avalanche
The Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche have one of the bloodiest NHL rivalries, solidified by the NHL’s biggest brawl that occurred between the two and was dubbed the “Brawl in Hockey Town” and, is also known as, “Bloody Wednesday.”
The rivalry began in the 1996 Western Conference Finals when the Avs’ Claude Lemieux checked Red Wing Kris Draper into the boards and smashed his face into the glass, which caused serious injuries. From that moment the grudge had been formed and the rivalry was cemented. Hockey town’s famous brawl would happen in March of the following year.
The ‘Brawl in Hockey Town’ is arguably one of the NHL’s biggest brawls to date. The fight involved every player on the ice, including the goalies, and by the time the refs broke up the whole thing there was a pool of blood on the ice. Now retired Red Wing Kris Draper even wrote about the monumental brawl for The Players’ Tribune. This brawl was so big, you can’t possibly discuss the NHL’s top rivalries without mentioning it.
The rivalry led to hundreds of fights between the teams, including the rare goalie fights and the even rarer coach fights. In 1997, Avalanche head coach Marc Crawford and Red Wings head coach Scotty Bowman went past their own glass to have a full-blown argument during game time.
The Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry began the old-fashioned way; these teams didn’t have to fight for their demographic or for state dominance, these two teams became rivals because of the level of their competition and for the rough play they dished to each other.
Though it might not be the first rivalry that comes to your mind, the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry is regarded as one of the most insane rivalries to grace the NHL.
New York Rangers Vs. New York Islanders
The ‘Battle of New York’ began when the New York Islanders joined the NHL in 1972. The Rangers, an Original Six team, had been New York City’s team for as long as possible and now a new team was in the mix not too far away on Long Island. Instantly, a rivalry was born and it hasn’t let up since.
The Islanders and the Rangers have faced eight times in the postseason since 1975 and have earned a variety of rivalry related tradition in the process. Even today the competitive games live on; this season new Islander Jason Chimera voiced his dislike of the Rangers by telling media that: “I’ve only been here six months and I hate them. It’s not just the team, it’s the people that cheer for them. You hear your neighbors talking about the Rangers and you want to beat them even more.”
The fans preserve this rivalry as much as the fans do and both sides have crafted their own chants and chirps for their opponent. The Rangers have famously coined the nickname “fish sticks” for the team who’s old logo resembled the famous fisherman fish sticks, and their “Potvin Sucks” chant that came about following Islander Denis Potvin’s check on Ranger Ulf Nilsson that broke the center’s ankle.
The Rangers’ fans aren’t the only ones who have coined chants. The Isles fans crafted their our anti-Rangers chants including their “If you know the Rangers suck” chant to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and their old Chicken Dance embellished with “Rangers suck.”
The rivalry has inspired dozens of heated fights and hundreds of action-packed games. Every time these two New York teams get in the rink together, you know it’ll be a good game. Even when the rivalry weakens, it’s never really a passing thought.
Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Much like the state of New York, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia take the ‘Battle of Pennsylvania’ pretty seriously. The rivalry originated in 1967 when the two Pennsylvania teams joined the league in the league’s six-team expansion. From the moment these two teams entered their rinks, they knew they were sharing their home state with an enemy.
The Pens and the Flyers have met six times in the postseason with the Flyers taking most of the victories. While the Flyers top the rivalry with wins, the Penguins have the upper-hand in league-wide success.
Pennsylvania fans have passionately participated in the rivalry with strong opposition to their home state neighbors with rowdy behavior and bashing chants. The Flyers’ fans have often taunted star Penguins Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury while Penguins fans have tried to chant discredits to their ‘inferior’ fellow Pennsylvanians.
Players have also engaged in the fun of the state rivalry. When NHL legend Jaromir Jagr returned to the NHL in 2011, it was rumored that the forward would rejoin a former team, the Penguins. To everyone’s surprise, Jagr returned to the NHL but joined the Flyers instead.
Crosby has also engaged in the rivalry by stating to NHL.com, in 2012, that: “We don’t like each other. You can dissect it all you want, but the fact is we don’t like each other” and “Both teams bring out a lot of bad things in each other.”
The rivalry has inspired countless fights, player rivalries (Sidney Crosby vs. Claude Giroux, anyone?) and passionate outbursts among fans. With how passionate these Pennsylvania fans are, the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia rivalry will never die.