While historically the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs have been bigger rivals for the Boston Bruins, over the last several years, the Tampa Bay Lightning may have quietly become the Bruins’ biggest current nemesis.
A good part of the animosity that has grown between the two teams comes from the fact that they’re both just so good and have recently found themselves battling it out for the division title.
Over the past decade (including this season), the Lightning and Bruins have combined for 6 division titles. Both teams have extremely talented forwards, stingy defense, elite goaltenders, and enough snarl to help keep the rivalry interesting.
While you could just go back to the last battle between these two teams on March 7th to see the hatred that has grown between them, you really have to go back much further to see the evolution of the rivalry.
The 2011 Eastern Conference Final
Although there are only a handful of current Bruins who played in this series, and just Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman on the Bolts, this series is arguably the start of the rivalry between these two teams.
Although this series wasn’t the most heated of match-ups, it featured a lot of emotional ups and downs for both teams’ players and fan bases, which culminated in one of the more remarkable Game 7’s of the past decade.
After 52 heart-stopping minutes of hockey, Nathan Horton would seal his place in Bruins’ history by scoring the game’s only goal and sending the B’s to their first Stanley Cup Final in 21 years.
For the Lightning, they could only sit back and watch the B’s hoist the cup a couple weeks later, and think about how close they were that season.
The Stamkos Injury
Fast-forward a couple seasons to a November 2013 match-up between these two in Boston.
With 7:11 to go in the 2nd period, Stamkos got mixed up with Boston’s Dougie Hamilton and ending up crashing into the post, unfortunately breaking his right tibia.
While this was likely a freak injury that happened during a very routine hockey play, for some Lightning fans, Hamilton was clearly the cause of the injury to their best player.
Of course, no rivalry can exist without key players stirring the pot on each team.
Over the last decade, both the Bruins and Lightning have had characters who were certainly capable of just that, guys who have helped to build the feud between these two teams.
For the Bolts, guys like Steve Downie, Ryan Malone and Ryan Callahan helped start this rivalry, and now players like Cedric Paquette, Pat Maroon, and Barclay Goodrow are doing their very best to drive the Bruins nuts.
On the Bruins’ side, they’re far from saints themselves. Case in point:
The 2018 Playoff Match-Up
Playoff series tend to ratchet up the intensity level between two teams, and this series was no exception.
An aspect of it that added fuel to the fire was the number of calls the Bruins had go against them. Frankly, it seemed like every call was made (or not made) in Tampa’s favor.
From Marchand getting blatantly slashed on a breakaway late in Game 2 to an even more embarrassing no-call where McAvoy was yanked down by Kucherov leading directly to a Lightning tying goal in Game 4, this series was hard to watch.
And although the refs may have hurt the B’s during the series, there was also plenty of hate to direct at Tampa Bay, who seemingly could do no wrong.
The Future of this Rivalry
If the quote “I kind of have a feeling we may see these guys again,” from Charlie McAvoy holds true this year in the playoffs (if they happen at all), it’s going to be a “can’t miss, no holds barred” type of prize fight.
The animosity has grown between these two Atlantic Division rivals, but another playoff series could really push things over the top.
Beyond this year’s playoffs, with a lot of young guns on both sides combined with some veterans that still have a few years left, there’s still plenty of time for this rivalry to become an all-time great.
Who are the Bruins’ biggest rival right now?
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Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs