By: Nathan Anderson | Follow me on Twitter @nathandrsn
Historically, there is no bigger rivalry in the National Hockey League than the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens. Recently though, the Bruins and Canadiens rivalry seems to have fallen a bit. The games aren’t as intense, and there hasn’t been a playoff series between the two since 2014. With the Canadiens making their improbable run to the Stanley Cup last season, some of those feelings of hatred towards the old foes came back for Bruins fans. I think it is fair to ask, however, are the Canadiens still the Bruins’ biggest rival? My answer to that question would be no, and I want to explain why by running through the candidates.
Let’s start with the traditional. Some may say that history is stronger than anything Gary Bettman can artificially engineer with his new playoff format (which I still think should change). The Canadiens have been there since the Bruins came into the league. They were there when the Bruins were trying to breakthrough in the late 2000s and early 2010s, stopping the Bruins or pushing them to seven games every time. Those playoff series were fantastic to watch and were probably the peak of Jack Edwards’s broadcasting career, if we’re being honest.
With that being said, I don’t think the hate is there anymore. Part of that is the way the teams are built. When I was growing up, it was Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Shawn Thornton, and Adam McQuaid (who Pierre McGuire called “one tough hombre”) versus Mike Komisarek, Roman Hamrlik, Travis Moen, and Josh Gorges. Those guys played two games every time they laced up the skates against each other. One was on the scoreboard with goals, as you would expect, but they also competed to see who could beat the other team up more.
There was the Marchand and Subban rivalry, the Horton and Subban rivalry, the Lucic and Komisarek rivalry, and we even got a Tim Thomas against Carey Price fight! I don’t see that kind of stuff happening anymore, given the guys on both teams’ rosters. Both teams are more skill-based than they used to be, with guys like David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Cole Caulfield, and Nick Suzuki pulling on the iconic sweaters.
The fact that they have not played a playoff series in seven years doesn’t help either. From 2008-2014, the Bruins and Canadiens played four playoff series against each other. When two teams play that many high-intensity games, they are bound to develop a rivalry even without the existing history. For my lifetime, that was the peak of this rivalry.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs are a popular choice for people who are maybe a couple of years younger than me, and I can’t blame them at all. The Bruins and Leafs have had some incredible playoff series in the last ten years. Who in Bruins’ Nation can forget the 2013 series culminating in Bergeron ripping the series out of Toronto’s hands and killing the beast (according to Jack Edwards). That game is probably one of my favorites that I’ve ever been alive for. It’s such an incredible game that I’ll likely never forget.
This rivalry is also a product of the Bettman playoff format, which I suppose we have to give him credit for. The point of the realignment was to create rivalries, and losing to the Bruins every year has definitely made Leaf fans hate us here in Boston. I do think there is a downside to that format, though, which is that after a few series, I’ve gotten tired of playing the Leafs every single year. That, of course, changed last season because of the pandemic, but I want the playoff rivalries to feel organic. Right now, it just feels like we’re forced to play the Leafs, which I suppose is true.
This rivalry also has promising young talent on its side, with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner pulling on the Maple Leaf against our beloved young guns for the Bruins. It means there should be plenty of bad blood between these teams for a while, which is good for the longevity of the rivalry. Maybe in the future, we’ll see a McAvoy versus Matthews fight? I’d also like to see Pasta drop the gloves against Marner, but I don’t think that would be a very fair fight.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Similar to how Leaf fans feel about the Bruins, I think there’s a little bit of hatred towards the Tampa Bay Lighting here in Massachusetts. They’re the team that always seems to stop the B’s from reaching the top. The one year they lost before the Cup Finals in recent memory, the Bruins went as far as they possibly could without winning the whole thing.
I think everyone in the Eastern Conference sees the Lightning as the team to beat, which makes it hard to count them as the Bruins’ biggest rival. I also think they currently have a much deeper hatred for the Panthers than they do towards the Bruins. If you aren’t another team’s biggest rival, they shouldn’t be yours.
While I desperately want a new champion next year, I don’t think the Lightning are the Bruins’ biggest rival. This situation seems to be more like the high school freshman that looks up to the senior that doesn’t know who they are. The Bruins (and every NHL team) want to get to the point where the Lightning is at right now. The Lightning, however, are just doing their thing and marching towards Stanley Cup after Stanley Cup.
I think my winner here has to be the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens could make a comeback depending on the next couple of playoffs, but right now, the Maple Leafs are ahead. What decides it for me is the playoff series. While I am getting a bit tired of playing the Leafs, I still want to beat them just as bad every time. I might even say I want to beat them, even more every time because I know that if they win just once, their fans will never let us hear the end of it regardless of how many times the Bruins win. From a sentimental point of view, I do hope the Canadiens and Bruins reignite the historical best rivalry in the NHL very soon, though.