The greatest rivalries in NHL history

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July 24th, 2020

After a nearly five-month long hiatus brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL will resume its 2019-20 season next week. 

The return to play will include a play-in round as well as a round robin for the top four teams in the Western and Eastern Conferences. The league's long-awaited resumption will give teams a chance to renew old rivalries and build new ones with other franchises. 

With that in mind, here are the five greatest rivalries in NHL history.

Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens

The rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins is probably the fiercest in all of hockey, dating back almost a century. 

The Canadiens and Bruins have squared off in postseason series an astounding 34 times throughout the course of their respective histories, including in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Some of hockey’s most dramatic moments can be traced back to this rivalry. Take, for instance, the 1979 semifinals. After losing to the Canadiens in each of the previous two Stanley Cup Finals, the Bruins faced their arch rival once again in the playoffs. Boston held the lead late in the third period of Game 7, only to be penalized for too many men on the ice. Montreal tied the game, and then won it in overtime.

Another heartbreak in Boston. 

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens

As two of the NHL's oldest franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens have a long rivalry. 

A classic Saturday night matchup between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens is often appointment viewing. The teams don’t like each other, and the fan bases really don’t like each other. And despite what you may think you know about Canadians, neither fan base would ever apologize for this decades-long dislike. 

Montreal and Toronto have faced off against each other in 71 postseason games. They’ve met in the Stanley Cup Finals on a number of occasions. Toronto hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, but that year they defeated none other than the Canadiens in six games.

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

The "Battle of Pennsylvania" is not for the feint of heart. The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins just do not like each other. 

Some of the NHL’s best have taken part in this bitter feud, including all-time greats like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Eric Lindros. The torch has since been passed to Sidney Crosby of the Penguins and Claude Giroux of the Flyers.

Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers

The 1980s were the golden days of NHL hockey in Alberta. The Oilers, led by Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, were a dynasty, winning five Stanley Cups. The Flames weren't half bad either, going to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1986, and winning it all three years later. 

The so-called "Battle of Alberta" has been somewhat tepid since the early 1990s as both teams slumped, but it could reignite soon thanks to an infusion of new talent in the province's two biggest cities.

Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin

Rivalries in sports aren’t just between teams and cities. Even in a sport like hockey, which romanticizes the "team game", their are still intense one-on-one rivalries like the one that exists between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Their rivalry dates back to before they even logged a minute of ice time in the NHL.

Ovechkin was taken first overall in the 2004 NHL Draft, and was forecast as the next great generational scorer. Crosby was taken first overall the following year after gaining comparisons to Wayne Gretzky. Both players have lived up to the considerable hype, and have found themselves constantly being compared to each other as they've led an all-out assault on the record books.

There seems to be mutual respect between the two stars off the ice, but when Crosby and Ovechkin play each other sparks have been known to fly. Their personal rivalry adds even more excitement to the Penguins vs. Capitals rivalry in the Eastern Conference, especially during playoff time. 

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