Fans have had a love-hate relationship with the NHL’s rivalry Wednesdays on NBCSN since they debuted during the 2012-13 season. Since then, the league has hand-delivered one “rivalry” game per week on national television, hyping the contests up as clashes between two teams that simply don’t like each other.
These games get specific ad pushes and are built up more like pro-wrestling matches than hockey games.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as NBCSN has received a fair bit of praise for upping the ante when it comes to covering the NHL. The league come a long way since the dark days of games being broadcast on OLN, and they don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. But the question has to be asked: how many of these rivalry games actually feature rivalries?
Every Wednesday here at FanRagSports.com, we are going to take a look at the featured rivalry game of the week and decide whether or not the two teams playing that night are actually rivals. Tonight the Boston Bruins will appear in their second consecutive rivalry night game, this time against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Puck drop is at 8 p.m. ET.
The Penguins and Bruins might not have quite as much history as the Bruins and Habs, but that doesn’t mean that these two organizations haven’t gone to war. Since October of 1967 — when the Penguins first squared off with the Bruins — there have been numerous episodes, both violent and personal.
For instance, when the Penguins first announced that they’d be switching to black and gold colors in 1980, then-Bruins GM Harry Sinden protested because his team wore black and gold already. The NHL allowed Pittsburgh to switch up their scheme, and in April of that year the two teams met in the playoffs for the second consecutive year. This was really the first on-ice flare up between them, but it wouldn’t be the last.
On Feb. 5, 1987 the Bruins and Penguins participated in one of the last bench-clearing brawls in NHL history. Even this moment would end up paling in comparison to what would happen just a few years later.
If there’s a moment that defines the rivalry between the Bruins and Penguins for old school fans, it was when Ulf Samuelsson kneed Cam Neely in Game 3 of the 1991 Conference Final. It was a clear-cut knee-on-knee hit — the kind that Samuelsson had been known to throw from time to time — and it essentially derailed Neely’s career.
Mike Milbury responded to the hit on his star player by dressing a team full of goons and fighters for Game 4, which didn’t work out too well for the Bruins. This would be the peak of the rivalry until 2010, when former Penguins forward Matt Cooke delivered a head shot to Marc Savard.
This sparked another few years of heated play, leading (again) to another dirty hit from Cooke. This time on Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid in April of 2013. And then there was this incident in December of that year.
It’s fair to say that there have been some violent exchanges between these two organizations. We’ve seen Evgeni Malkin fight Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby try to get in Zdeno Chara’s face and more over the last several seasons.
What’s on the Line Tonight
This is the first game in a home-and-home series between Boston and Pittsburgh, and a physical game tonight could set up some fireworks for Friday at the CONSOL Energy Center. There are a number of little story lines heading into tonight’s tilt.
The Penguins will be forced to play without No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, as he was recently diagnosed with a concussion. That’s a tough blow for Pittsburgh. The Penguins have been reliant on high-end goaltending from Fleury, but will turn to Jeff Zatkoff this evening.
The Penguins are also still adjusting to new head coach Mike Sullivan, who has been forced to shakeup his lines with Beau Bennett on the shelf for the next four-to-six weeks.
The Bruins have been on a roll recently, going 8-1-3 over their last 12 games. They’ve taken control of the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference and sit three points ahead of the Penguins in the standings. This is a big four-point game between two Eastern Conference teams.
So… Is This a Rivalry?
Pittsburgh vs Boston ebbs and flows a bit more than rivalries like the Bruins and Canadiens, but (as we see above) all it takes is one hit or incident to open up the can of worms again. There’s plenty at stake tonight, so don’t expect either team to come out throwing elbows. That doesn’t mean that there’s any love between these two organizations though.
There’s a ton of history here. Numerous outstanding players have been involved in this one over the years, adding to the legacy even more.
Verdict: You bet. It might not be as heated as it was a few years ago, but this is a legit rivalry.