September 29, 2005
(Canadian Press) -- Things could get nasty in the NHL this season.
The post-lockout 2005-06 schedule has teams playing 10 more games inside their own conferences than in 2003-04, including eight games each against opponents their own divisions.
|The Leafs will see a whole lot more of the Habs this season. |
(Graig Abel Photography)
That means rivalries, some decades old, some perhaps about to form.
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jose Theodore is all for it.
"Any time we played Boston, Toronto, Ottawa or Philadelphia, it was always more exciting than playing Nashville or Columbus," he said. "I'd rather play more in our (division and conference).
"It's fun to go to California, but it's more fun to play these teams."
Added new Edmonton Oiler Chris Pronger: "In our division, with all the moves all the teams have made, it's going to be exciting."
Here's a look at 10 top rivalries:
It's quieter now than in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs were the dominant franchises in a six-team league. The Leafs' unexpected victory over Montreal in 1967 was their last Stanley Cup. The last time they met in the playoffs was 1979, largely because the Leafs spent 1981 to 1998 in the Western Conference. But these are Canada's two biggest cities -- English Ontario vs. French Quebec -- and the noise in the both buildings when they meet is always at full volume. Plus, six of their meetings this season are on Saturday nights.
From 1984 to 1990, the Oilers won five Stanley Cups and the Flames won one in 1989 and reached the final in 1986. Both teams went into decline in the 1990s, but the Battle of Alberta still had that extra edge. Now that Calgary is a Cup favorite and Edmonton is rising again, it can only get better. "It's going to be a great battle," says Flames star Jarome Iginla. "Both are improved, both are quick, both like to play physical."
Four times between 2000 and 2004, the sleek, highly skilled Senators were sent packing in the playoffs by the grittier Leafs and the animosity between the two Ontario cities has grown with each series. This season, Ottawa is a real threat to win the Cup while Toronto may take a step back, but the challenge to the Senators lies open: Can they beat the Leafs?
In recent years, all that was special between them was that they were two top clubs in the Northwest Division and that Avalanche captain Joe Sakic was from Vancouver. That changed in 2004, when the Canucks' Todd Bertuzzi punched and piled on Avs' Steve Moore to the ice in one of the most vicious attacks in recent NHL history. This is how rivalries get started, and some have already circled Oct. 27 on the schedule -- Bertuzzi's first game in Denver since the incident.
This one started in 1996, when the Avs beat the Red Wings in the Western Conference final en route to their first Stanley Cup. It was the start of a string of memorable post-season clashes. Detroit beat the Avs in the conference final and went on to win the Cup in 1997 and 2002. Colorado beat Detroit in seven games each in conference semifinals in 1999 and 2000. Every series was nasty and the two clubs were banging each other again this week in pre-season games. "I think you saw there's still something to the rivalry," Avs coach Joel Quenneville told the Denver Post.
The animosity comes mostly from the side of the Bruins, whose long history is pockmarked with setbacks against the Canadiens. Montreal has won 24 of 31 playoff series between them, including the 1979 heartbreaker when Don Cherry's Bruins were called for too many men on the ice and Guy Lafleur scored to tie Game 7 of the semifinals. Yvon Lambert won it in OT. The great Bobby Orr teams won Cups in 1970 and 1972, but dynasty was denied by Montreal wins in 1971 and 1973. Even recently, favoured Bruins teams were ousted in the first round by Montreal in 2002 and 2004.
|No love lost here. |
(Graig Abel Photography)
The Islanders are now a middling team and the Rangers will likely miss the playoffs for an eighth straight year, but the bitterness lingers between Manhattan's Rangers and the suburban Islanders. Fistfights have been known to break out between rival fans, a holdover from the early 1980s when the upstart Isles won four straight Stanley Cups. The Rangers finally got bragging rights back with a Cup win in 1994, but neither has had much to crow about lately.
The Pennsylvania championship has heated and cooled as the Penguins went from awful to great to awful again. Now the Pens are back, with phenom Sidney Crosby and a whack of free agent stars joining Mario Lemieux's club. The Flyers remain Cup contenders. Each has won the Cup twice. "The Pennsylvania thing with Philly is going to be terrific," says the Pens' Mark Recchi, a former Flyer.
For a few years, the Panthers were good and the Lightning were terrible and then Tampa Bay won the 2004 Stanley Cup while Florida was dreadful. Now, the Panthers have loaded up on free agents and young talent and are ready to mount a serious intra-state challenge.
Like the Rangers-Islanders, this one pits city against suburbs and the Mighty Ducks' new owner Henry Samueli is already looking forward to crossing sticks with the Kings. "If we could build a great, healthy rivalry between the Ducks and the Kings, that would be fantastic," he told the L.A. Times. Samueli fired the first shot, signing star defenceman Scott Niedermayer from New Jersey. The Kings responded by acquiring media magnet Jeremy Roenick from Philadelphia.