There are many clubs who claim to be part of a classic NHL rivalry.
The Senators will claim their competition with the Maple Leafs constitutes the epitome of a rivalry, and they wouldn't be wrong; it's a pretty good rivalry all things considered.
The Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers would also support their own conflict. Like the Leafs-Sens tilts, the battle of Alberta is a provincial match up that decides bragging rights between the two cities where there's no love lost.
However, the correct answer to the question "What is the greatest rivalry in hockey?" is definitely the age old struggle between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.
Tonight will mark the 725th time the eternal rivals will clash in the regular season. Montreal holds a 351-270 advantage in the tilts, including 109 ties.
They have met in the playoffs 33 times. 33. That's not a typo. Montreal holds a 24-win advantage in the playoffs, compared to Boston's nine spring wins.
When both the playoffs and the regular season are accounted for, the Habs and the Bruins have clashed in almost 900 games.
To put that into perspective, that's the equivalent of playing almost 11 regular seasons consisting of an 82-game schedule, entirely between the two teams.
And every single one of those games have been played with emotions flaring and hate flowing. There has been bloodshed by the gallons, offensive gestures given to home fans by opposing players, legitimate cases of assault, 911 calls, and to cap it all off there has been a plethora of great hockey.
The key to this rivalry is genuine hatred mixed with an odd sense of respect. I, like many Habs fans, will quickly declare that I "hate the Bruins", but I also have to admit that they're one of the biggest reasons why I, and many fans from both sides of the fence, love hockey.
In that sense, I actually love the Bruins. I love that they make my hair stand up whenever I write game previews. I love that I can reference several incidents that get my blood boiling in an instant, I love that even a simple smile from P.K. Subban can send Bruins fans into a frenzy of anger that consumes them. Essentially, I love to hate them.
I can still close my eyes and visualize the many incidents of violence between the two clubs, whether it is Kyle McLaren clothes-lining Richard Zednik in 2002, the 10 man brawl that saw the smallest players on the Habs (Spacek, Pyatt) get bludgeoned by the bigger, meaner Bruins, or more recently, the Zdeno Chara incident.
I can also picture the joyous events, including eliminating them more times than we can count in the playoffs, despite having lost the most recent series. I can easily remember Tuukka Rask smashing his stick in frustration after a beautiful Brendan Gallagher shootout goal. And I will never forget the endless dominant performances put on by Carey Price, who seems to own the Bruins in almost every contest.
The schadenfreude and pain in defeat goes both ways, as explained by Stanley Cup of Chowder contributor Cornelius Hardenbergh:
"The first thing that comes to mind about this rivalry is how Bruins have held a talent advantage in terms of rosters, which means I get to laugh at how bad the Habs have been recently. Whenever these two meet I instantly miss Tim Thomas, I smile while thinking of the Nathan Horton double overtime winner, and I anguish at the thought of another Canadiens goalie putting on a stellar performance, as is par for the course with Habs goalies when facing the Bruins. One of the best parts of this rivalry is the ire that Jack Edwards produces, and of course the fan reaction afterwards. The Habs are the only team that I've gone out of my way to tune into their sports talk shows after a loss, to relish in the victory."
There you have it, the hate is a two way street, and understandably so.
Montreal is pinned as the small, skilled team that holds a speed advantage that is the ultimate Achilles heel of the Bruins. The Bruins are billed as the big, mean club that will obliterate you if you try to play 'their game'.
It's a perfect match up of styles, cities and fans, one that is not dependent on geographic convenience to grow the duel.
However when it's all said and done, there is a deep-rooted respect between both clubs, even if the surface of the conflict is littered with fights and hatred. Don't get me wrong, no one likes the opposing team, or even its fans, but that's not the same thing as respecting the greatest rivalry in hockey, which most fans, and players, do.
The respect has been there since the beginning, and no amount of hate can erase it.
For example, here's is a gif of Habs and Bruins players carrying the famous Kraut line off the ice, after Montreal suffered a 7-0 loss at the hands of the Bruins. All three Bruins players played their final game before reporting for duty during WWII.
The Habs will lose some, they will win some, but the rivalry will always remain, and when it comes down to it that's a big part of what makes being a Habs fan great . I wouldn't have it any other way.
So, how do you define a rivalry?
Ask yourself this; do you check the calendar on release day and immediately find your most loathed opponents?
Do you have a sense of nervousness overwhelming your body leading up to game time?
Do you hate them with every ounce of strength, all the while cherishing a hard fought competition that has given you the highest highs, and the lowest lows?
Do you scoreboard watch the opposing team and smile every time you see a loss?
If so, you happen to participate in one of the best parts of sports, a true rivalry.
If you're lucky enough, you're a fan of the Bruins or the Habs, in which case you get to enjoy a never ending clash that will never be matched in the NHL, and is arguably the greatest rivalry in the history of sports.