- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
April is a time for young love, tax deadlines and the Boston Bruins meeting the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs. Now in a remarkable 32nd revival, Bruins-Canadiens, which commenced 80 years ago, is the granddaddy of playoff rivalries—assuming your grandfather is a grumpy guy who keeps trying to stick a smelly glove in your face the way Montreal defenseman Mike Komisarek and Bruins rookie Matt Hunwick did to each other during a scrum at the end of Game 1. Hunwick emerged with a discolored eyelid and nasty scratches around his right eye, which proved to be the least of his worries—he was taken by ambulance for a splenectomy last Saturday, hours before the Bruins went up two games to none in the series with a 5--1 win. This is one of those series that, as your mother once warned, can poke an eye out. Or worse.
Serendipitously, the NHL yielded three other first-round intradivisional series: San Jose--Anaheim, Detroit-Columbus and Pittsburgh-Philadelphia. Those matchups have had the opportunity to marinate in the bile of six regular-season games and cook up quite nicely in the spring. While familiarity with an opponent might wear on a player's nerves—"We know each other so well, we probably [recognize] each other's cologne," Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward says of the Canadiens—cities get energized by a series that is rich in backstory. (Penguins center Evgeni Malkin's ongoing battle against the physical Flyers, say.)
"The first and obviously the fourth round [of the playoffs] are the best," Montreal assistant Kirk Muller says. "First round, everybody's fresh. Add in a natural rivalry in the first round, wow. I started [as a Devils player] in the old Patrick Division, and there was nothing like a New Jersey--New York Rangers series. Your fans hated the other team. We've got to find a way to do that [again] soon."
Before 1993--94, when the league expanded from 24 to 26 teams and adopted conferencewide seeding, the NHL produced riveting playoffs with teams playing two rounds to get out of their divisions: the brutal (Chuck) Norris Division in the heartland; the Smythe's Battles of Alberta; the truly scary Adams family, which included Boston, Montreal and Quebec; and the Patrick nastiness. "Getting out of your division felt like you had won the Stanley Cup," Montreal G.M. and interim coach Bob Gainey says.
"Imagine if Washington and Carolina faced each other in the playoffs pretty much every year," says Bruins VP Cam Neely of the Southeast adversaries. "A good hatred would evolve. Then their regular-season games would become must-sees. Divisional playoffs build rivalries."
The first round is already the best two weeks of the hockey calendar. By resurrecting divisional playoffs the NHL could make it even better.
Now on SI.com