Here in the triangle we are blessed to know what a true rivalry is. We are in the heart of one the largest rivalries in all of sports every time two shades of blue square off in Durham or Chapel Hill. We see it on Saturdays in the fall with NC State and UNC and certainly see it on the ice as well with our beloved Canes.
If you were to ask almost any fan who the Canes biggest rivals were without any doubt in my mind the majority would say Buffalo. In fact, Wesley just wrote an article about why he thinks we all should hate the nasty Sabres. With all due respect to him, in my opinion the Sabres are no where close to our biggest rivals; in fact, I don’t see them even cracking the top five.
While I do think the rivalry is vastly overrated, I also understand why people, including Wesley, put the Banana Slugs at the top of their most hated team list. The Eastern Conference finals in 2006 saw some of the nastiest fans I’ve ever seen. While I’ve never been able to confirm this, I’ve heard multiple times that in the four games in Raleigh during this series, there were more arrests than at the roughly 50 other games combined during the rest of the season.
But when I think of a rivalry, I think of two fan bases and two teams that really can’t stand each other. Teams that circle their opponent on a calendar. Teams located near you. Teams with history. Games as a fan you get jacked up to see. It’s not that I don’t think some of the above items are true regarding Buffalo, I just think there are at the minimum three much more intense and meaningful rivals for the Canes.
Along with being the closest team to the Canes of any NHL team, the Washington Capitals are just flat out good. The class of the southeast for the last two seasons not only dominates the division, they also have the best player in the world in Alex Ovechkin. Beyond that, Ovechkin was the most hated player for the Canes last season not only due to his talent, but his kneeing penalty on Tim Gleason in the early parts of the season. While their fan base will say Pittsburgh is clearly their biggest rival, every time we play these guys, people are excited and ready. Beating them does more than just the four point swing in the standings, it makes us feel good.
Perhaps the strangest, in terms of geography, rivalry for the Canes comes with the New Jersey Devils. It’s not a team we play often (twice there, twice here), it’s not a team located that close to us and it’s not a team that really gets the fans going. But when it’s playoff time, we all know about those Devils. Every time since the Canes have been in Raleigh and have made the playoffs, they have met the Devils.
We all remember in 2001 when Scott Stevens took out Ron Francis and basically ended the career of Shane Willis all in just a six game series. We all remember the save by Kevin Weeks in 2002. We all loved Broduer’s birthday blow out in 2006. And who can forget the Shock at the Rock in 2009? These moments are what make this an intense rivalry. And let’s not forget, we have won the last three series against the Devils (including 2006 when the Devils were on a 15 game win streak heading in) so their fans really despise the Canes.
One of, if not the most, underrated rivalries is with the Florida Panthers. Erik Cole was quoted loosely one time saying that he wouldn’t watch the Florida Panthers play a game on tv. Yikes. The rivalry goes beyond what you see on the ice as well as the Panthers’ fans hate the Canes. One quick trip to a Panthers’ message board on a game day with the Canes and you will see hundreds of fans claiming the Canes are divers. This rivalry hit its high mark at the end of the 2007 – 2008 season. The Canes needed a win over the Panthers on the final home game of the season to clinch the southeast division. The Panthers defeated the Canes that night but once again controlled the playoff hopes of the Canes the next night. Carolina and Washington were tied for the division lead and if the Panthers defeated the Caps in regulation, Carolina held the tiebreaker and would be awarded the division title. The Caps won the game and the division. To knock a team out of the playoffs on back to back nights – this is what rivalries are built on.
From here, it’s an interesting discussion of who the fourth and fifth rivals are for the Canes. I certainly could see Atlanta or Tampa Bay being here simply for being the division. What about Montreal? The Canes haven’t lost a regular season game in Montreal in years, have met the Habs twice in the playoffs and of course, have the famous Miracle at Molson game. I could certainly see an argument here for a team like Boston due to the 1999 and 2009 playoff series and being a division foe from the Hartford days.
Of course, you could also throw in Buffalo at this point as well. We certainly don’t like their team or their fan base and the playoff history is there. However, I would put them behind Washington, New Jersey, Florida, Montreal, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and even Boston. Before this playoff series in 2006 and since then, there is but one game and one game only you could even count towards a rivalry. And that was a preseason game in 1997. Yes, that is correct. Buffalo is our eighth biggest rival. I said it.