Boston. New York. They are the beasts of the northeast, at least geographically. In Major League Baseball, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees are perhaps the biggest rivals in all of sports. Both teams play in the AL East. In the National Football League, the divisional rivalry between the New England Patriots and New York Jets has never been stronger in the AFC East. The Boston Celtics have had some feisty bouts this year with the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets in the Atlantic Division of the National Basketball Association. In the National Hockey League, the two oldest surviving American teams in the league do not play in the same division. Is this really a “rivalry?”
To be clear, two teams don’t have to play in the same division to forge a rivalry. The Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings have never occupied spots in the same division, yet the two squads grew to hate each other in the late ‘90s through early 2000’s after meeting up five times in the playoffs, three of which came in the Western Conference Finals. In recent years, there’s no doubt been a bit of a rivalry brewing between the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks, due to their playoff matchups in three consecutive seasons.
The Bruins and Rangers have not met in the playoffs since 1973. They have not been in the same division since 1974. Yet, there’s been plenty of overhyping coming from the NBC Sports Network to promote their Wednesday Night Rivalry premiere broadcast.
Growing up in Boston, I can say with certainty that the Bruins—Rangers animosity does not nearly compare to the Red Sox—Yankees or, at this time, the Patriots—Jets. The Pats—Gang Green rivalry, however, is a good starting point for describing the terms of the Black & Gold and the Broadway Blueshirts’ contention.
If the Bruins and Rangers continue to be viewed as historic rivals, then their rivalry has certainly been inclined to ebb and flow over the years. In the days of the Original Six, really everyone enjoyed a rivalry with each other at one time or another. The league was just 1/5th the size that it is now, so teams only had five opponents with which to butt heads. Due to players being swapped between the two franchises (most notably the 1975 deal that sent, among others, Phil Esposito to the Rangers and Brad Park to Boston), one could argue that the heavier days of this opposition stretched through the ‘70s. If the rivalry is ready to pick back up now, then it remained fairly dormant for a few decades.
Not even has this rivalry not remained consistent for 85+ seasons, but each of these teams would also count others around the league as much bigger rivals. The Rangers have good reason to consider themselves rivals with every other team in the Atlantic Division, while the Bruins already compete in one of the best and oldest rivalries in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens. Rivalries like this one are so strong that I don’t see these teams being separated from the same division ever again.
Rivalries can certainly be forged between two teams during the stretch of a season or over a stretch of years. Particularly when teams are close both in the standings and geographically, it’s hard for the hype between the two to not be blown out of proportion. People want to see these two cities do battle. In the case of the Rangers and Bruins, you can even count on the fact that both teams were numbers one and two, respectively, in earning the most fighting majors last season.
Both teams even employ very similar philosophies. Though each team has guys who can put the puck in the back of the net, both coaches preach team defense. Every player is expected to be responsible, play within the system, and block shots. From top to bottom, these teams play hard and are hard to play against. To borrow a phrase from Wes Welker (while speaking on a different Boston—New York rivalry), each of these coaches can undoubtedly rely on their “good little foot soldiers.”
Boston took the season opening matchup on Saturday. The Rangers won the rematch on Wednesday, in overtime. When NYR went up 2-0 in the first period of the rematch, Bruins coach Claude Julien was forced to call timeout to slow things down. No one thought the game was over. These two teams will meet again on February 12, in their last matchup of the regular season. With both being favorites to win their respective divisions, it is not unlikely they will meet up again in the Eastern Conference playoffs, conceivably in a later round.
Many people felt when the Bruins hosted the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park that it should have been against the Rangers. While this would have been a nod to a rivalry, it is a rivalry that in Fenway belongs to another sport. The fans of each city may always be rivals, but let’s not go so far as to stretch this one into the NHL just yet, not when the most captivating moment in the history of this matchup was a 1979 fight between Bruins players and Rangers fans in the Madison Square Garden stands. NBC may be looking for ways to market their product (and I don’t blame them for that), but the matchup of two of the league’s biggest juggernauts will be more than enough of a reason for viewers to tune in.