Part of what makes the NHL so great are the rivalries. There is no better feeling as a fan than watching the team you root for knock off enemy No. 1. In that same token, no loss stings quite like one where your favourite club falls victim to its antagonist.
But thanks to frequent exposure throughout the regular season and playoffs, some matchups supply viewers with a little more bad blood than others, and that’s what puts them on top of the list of the best rivalries in today’s NHL.
5. Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
While the playoff portion of this rivalry has been dormant for quite some time — 40 years to be exact — the Maple Leafs and Canadiens showed last season that there’s still no love lost between the two franchises.
In the month of February, the Habs and Buds met twice in the highly-coveted Saturday night time slot. The first meeting didn’t disappoint with Toronto edging out Montreal in an entertaining 4-3 OT victory.
Two weeks later, the rivalry was renewed in Toronto. And that game, while not nearly as dramatic, delivered a moment Leaf fans will remember for some time.
The second-half emergence of the Bruins, coupled with Montreal’s late-season struggles, pushed the Habs to fourth in the Atlantic Division and out of a playoff berth. The lack of recent post-season action between these two teams keeps them from being higher on the list, although their regular-season battles continue to be must-see.
4. Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Until Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin skate their last strides in the NHL, this will always be one of the best rivalries.
Aside from possessing the two best players of the generation, these two teams met in three-straight post-seasons from 2016-18, with the winner of each of those series going on to win the Stanley Cup, and it’s the Capitals who serve as the most recent victors.
But the dramatics between these two clubs haven’t been exclusive to just the playoffs. Last year’s regular-season battle between the two squads showed that the rivalry is just as strong in the middle of December as it is in the spring.
The dislike is still alive and well for a clash that has been going strong for more than a decade in the NHL.
3. Nashville Predators vs. Winnipeg Jets
This duel has been downright nasty.
These two Central Division elites just straight up don’t like each other, and it seems as though the ill-will was made increasingly prevalent when the organizations met in the 2018 playoffs.
Dustin Byfuglien absolutely manhandling both Roman Josi and Austin Watson was an absolutely incredible visual. And after the Jets defeated the Predators in seven games, the rivalry picked right back up in the team’s first meeting of the 2018-19 season.
This clash took somewhat of an ugly turn as the year rolled on. In a January meeting between the two squads, Ryan Johansen took a nasty chop at Mark Scheifele which resulted in a two-game suspension.
The act was unfortunately reciprocated in a later match, as Adam Lowry took a swing at Filip Forsberg, which also brought forward a two-game ban.
The good, the bad and the ugly. This matchup has had it all.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Boston Bruins
This battle has not treated the Maple Leafs too kindly in recent years.
After a playoff series in 2013 that saw the Buds cough up a 4-1 lead in the third period of Game 7, the club had a golden chance at redemption against the Bruins in 2018. Leading in the third period of Game 7 once again, Toronto struggled to stay ahead, ultimately losing the crucial game 7-4.
The Original Six combatants met again in the 2019 playoffs. History repeated itself as the series was pushed to its limits once more, with a Game 7 needed to decide the winner. For a third straight time, the result favoured the Bruins.
These battles haven’t gone without a little bit of wackiness. Of course, everybody can recall Marchand licking Leo Komarov in 2018.
The most recent series reached an early boiling point in Game 2 when Nazem Kadri delivered a dangerous cross check to Jake DeBrusk, resulting in the centre being suspended for the remainder of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Given the current playoff format, it almost feels like we’re destined for another showdown between these two squads.
1. San Jose Sharks vs. Vegas Golden Knights
The Sharks and Golden Knights have been pinned against each other twice in the post-season, and while Vegas took the first battle in 2018, it was their second encounter which really took the rivalry to new heights.
It was this scrap in which Evander Kane equated Ryan Reaves’ fighting abilities to the “Muffin Man.”
But as we all know by now, the Reaves-Kane brawl wasn’t the highlight of this matchup. It was, of course, the unforgettable Game 7 in the first round of the 2019 playoffs.
Crazier hockey games than this are hard to come by. The Sharks battling back from down 3-1 in the series, and then 3-0 late in the third period of the deciding contest was an all-time hockey moment that will be near impossible to replicate. Especially in the manner it was accomplished.
Vegas has only been in the league for two years, but it’s been an eventful couple of campaigns to say the least. It hasn’t taken them very long to find their biggest enemy.
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