Rivalries in the National Hockey League are built over time and nurtured to the point that they become a part of the fabric of a club’s history. Merriam-Webster defines “rivalry” innocuously enough as “a state or situation in which people or groups are competing with each other.” But rivalries mean so much more to the teams, and their fans, that are part of one.
Rivalries in the NHL are built mainly when two teams meet repeatedly in the playoffs but also by geographical proximity to one another.
One of the greatest rivalries in the NHL, if not in all of sports, is the storied rivalry between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens. These two teams have faced each other 33 times in postseason play, with Montreal leading 24-9, dating back to 1929. This rivalry even sparked a riot in 1955, dubbed the “Richard Riot” (named after Maurice Richard), in a meeting between the two clubs in Montreal.
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The oldest rivalry in the NHL is between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. They have met in the playoffs 15 times, with Montreal leading that series 8-7. This rivalry dates back to the 1917-1918 season. The pinnacle of this rivalry is considered to the Stanley Cup Finals series in 1967, which Toronto won in six games.
The “Battle of Pennsylvania” is a heated one between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, dating back to when both teams were part of the NHL’s 1967 expansion. While they have only met in the postseason six times (Philadelphia leads 4-2), the proximity of these two clubs goes to the heart of this rivalry.
A notable anecdote to this rivalry was Pittsburgh’s 42-game winless streak at the Philadelphia Spectrum from February 1974 through February 1989. The tensions between the two clubs are not limited to the players on the ice or the fans that travel well for each game. On April 1, 2012, former Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette and Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato had a verbal altercation while standing atop the boards along their respective benches and were fined by the NHL.
There are other rivalries within the NHL that stand out, such as the one between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks and the melee that occurred between the Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche in March 1997.
That brings us around to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Although the fans in Ohio have seen Detroit as their rival due to the historical college football rivalry between the two states, there really hasn’t been a rival for Columbus, in the context of NHL rivalries. That could be about to change.
When the NHL realigned in 2013 and Columbus moved to the Eastern Conference and became part of the Metropolitan Division, it brought them within the same division as their closest geographical neighbor, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sitting a mere 185 miles from each other, the seeds for a budding rivalry exist. The Penguins fans travel well, as seen most recently when they made up almost half of the 18,634 sold-out seats in Nationwide Arena last Saturday night.
The Blue Jackets have met twice this season, with Pittsburgh winning the first two tilts. They will meet three more times during the regular season, including a nationally televised matchup on December 9th.
This, in and of itself, doesn’t make it a rivalry, as Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson explains.
“I think that true rivalries are made in the playoffs. If it’s going to be a real rivalry, it’s going to be in the playoffs. It definitely has the potential of being something like that because we are so close. You can’t manufacture that during the regular season.”
Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards has said that he’s looking forward to the rivalry developing between the two clubs. He has a history with Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma dating back to the 2006-2007 AHL season. Bylsma was an assistant coach under Richards for Wilkes Barre/Scranton. Their roles will be reversed in February 2014, with Richards acting as an assistant coach under Team USA head coach Bylsma.
Prior to last Saturday’s game between the two clubs, Bylsma addressed Columbus moving to the Eastern Conference and the budding rivalry between the two clubs.
“They’re more of an unknown than they are easy to overlook. When you see Philadelphia, the Rangers or Washington on the schedule they’re known and there’s a rivalry there.
“Columbus is coming to the East for the first time and they don’t have that same type of presence on the schedule as those rivalry games do. I think very quickly for us it could be that. We haven’t seen this team in the regular season in a while. I think we saw how good they can be (last Friday in Pittsburgh). They played really fast, really quick, got to the offensive zone against us and gave us a lot of problems.
“I don’t think that was a surprise. That wasn’t expected, but it’s got a different feel than a Philly game at this point in time. But soon enough, in games like this when they’re back to back and down the road, right now they’re in a spot where you may see them (Columbus) in a playoff spot. It would definitely be great to call this one a rivalry.”
All of the ingredients are there for this to turn into a very good rivalry, which would be Columbus’ first “true” rivalry. Time will tell the tale.