Throughout the years, we have seen rivalry games in the postseason shape up to be some of the best games ever played. Think of games like the Red Sox and Yankees, Astros vs. Rangers, Broncos vs. Raiders and so many more. These are the games both teams and fans highlight on the schedule, and they sell tickets. As a fan, you may feel the emotion, the dislike of the other team, and the overwhelming desire to see your team win in embarrassing fashion.
Entering round 2 of the NHL playoffs, the teams have been halved from 16 to 8, and this year, it is my opinion that we are set up to see some of the most amazing series in professional sports.
Right now, 75% of the hockey games can be classified as a rivalry or very close to. The two series that stand out the most would be Calgary v. Edmonton and Florida v. Tampa Bay. These two are not only very passionate rivalries but they are geographically located in the same area of their respective countries. For those that don’t know, Edmonton and Calgary are both part of Alberta, Canada. The first time these two teams met was 1895 and is one of the oldest rivalries in hockey.
For those in the US that refuse to use the metric system, the life span of a Bald Eagle is approximately 30 years. This means the rivalry is ~ 4.25 bald eagles old. Of the 5 previous times these teams have met in the postseason, Edmonton has dominated by winning 4 of the series. According to a 2013 op-ed from Bleacher Report, this rivalry is ranked #3 of the top 10 NHL rivalries. This series has not disappointed thus far with Game 1 totaling 15 goals between the two and Game 2 watching Edmonton come back from being down 2-0 in the 1st to win by a pair of goals. This series has been dubbed the Battle of Alberta and is living up to that name.
Another series worth looking at would be the Florida vs. Tampa Bay series. This is an in-state rivalry that has been highly emotional from the start. The first meeting in October of 1993, the two have been competing in separate divisions mostly, but every year they play for a chance to lay their claim to the Governor’s Cup. This is something unique to the Florida teams to cement their in-state rivalry. Later dubbed the Nextel Cup Challenge, both teams saw it as a way to drive more attention towards ice hockey in the sunshine state and also benefit the development of youth hockey. This rivalry isn’t as old as some (31 years or 1.2 Canadian Geese lives), however, when you get teams from the same state, you generally end up with some amazing games.
The third series isn’t what some would call a rivalry, however, I contend that it can be considered one in this instance. During the 2021 playoffs, the St. Louis Blues were set to face off against the Colorado Avalanche. This series was one where the Avalanche shined bright and sent the Blues packing early by sweeping them in 4 games in a best of 7.
As luck would have it, the Blues managed to defeat the Minnesota Wild in 6 games to advance to the 2nd round. Meanwhile, Colorado completed a back-to-back 1st round sweep by sending the Nashville Predators home early after winning 4 straight. As fate would have it, the Blues and Avs were set to meet again, this time in the 2nd round.
In Game 3 this year, the Blues laid a vicious hit on Samuel Girard, sending him to the hospital with a broken sternum which has ended his season. Not long after that, Nazem Kadri was involved in a violent collision with Blues’ goalie Jordan Binnington, causing injury to Binnington and ending his play for the duration of this series. During a post-game interview, Binnington saw Kadri giving an interview and decided to throw an empty water bottle at Kadri in frustration.
St. Louis is looking for payback after the embarrassing defeat they suffered last year and now seems to be searching for revenge after this year’s Game 3. Some would think Colorado would have an easy time with the Blues and walk into Round 3, however, there is a streak plaguing the Avs franchise that isn’t widely spoken of by their fans. The Avalanche have not advanced past the 2nd round of the playoffs since 2002, which coincidentally is when they won their last Stanley Cup. Among those on the 2002 team were current GM Joe Sakic, and 2006 Hall of Fame inductee Patrick Roy.
While the Avalanche holds a higher postseason seed, the Blues are an even competitor. This game may not be a true rivalry, but that same passion and emotion are there for both teams. One team looking for revenge, and another looking to put an end to their two-decade long dry spell of making it to the 3rd round. This series could shape up to be just as special as the other two mentioned.
The 4th series currently playing out is the Carolina Hurricanes against the New York Rangers. This series isn’t what anyone would consider a rivalry, however, it is a combination of two great teams trying to put their best hockey on display. This isn’t a series to be overlooked, but it may not be quite as entertaining as the other three. That could change in the blink of an eye though because several rivalries have been forged based on events that transpired during the playoffs.
No matter how you cut it, we are set to see one of the most entertaining playoff rounds compared in recent years. With so much history behind the clubs playing each other, the emotions are set to run high and when that happens, we see the physical play and the potential for many highlight reel-level hits and fights.