A rival can be defined in many ways. It can be a divisional foe that you battle through the regular season and over the years. It can be an opponent from a heated playoff battle. It can be a team against whom you seek vengeance for an on-ice incident.
But no matter the circumstances, matchups with a rival generate heightened excitement and emotion. The Boston Bruins have had many rivals throughout their 86-year-old history, but who most gets the blood boiling these days? We will argue for three organizations, then let you have the last word.
The Canadiens, the Bruins' oldest rival, can still make a case to be the team's biggest rival.
The 708 games between the teams are the second most of any NHL opponents (second only to Detroit and Chicago). This season the series has been lopsided with the Canadiens winning the first three matchups. All three games have been close, as the Canadiens have outscored the Bruins by the combined score of 10-6, including a stunning comeback from a 2-0 deficit late in the third period for a 3-2 overtime victory in their last matchup Jan. 8.
The rivalry has taken on greater significance of late as both teams have a shot at the Northeast Division crown and Stanley Cup. But for the heat to really intensify, the teams need to face off in the playoffs. The teams have played 152 postseason games; in 2008, Montreal won a thrilling seven-game series, and in 2009, the Bruins swept the Habs in four straight.
The Canadiens have gone on to win the Cup after beating Boston 13 times. If not for the B's meltdown against the Flyers last season, the teams would have met in the Eastern Conference finals.
Speaking of that meltdown, the Bruins coughing up a 3-0 series lead last postseason seemed to reignite a rivalry with the Flyers.
When the Broad Street Bullies came to Boston in the 1970s, you could always expect a hard-fought battle. The teams clashed in four intense playoff series, with the Flyers winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup against the Bruins. But Don Cherry's boys got the last word by winning their last two altercations (1976-77 and 1977-78) en route to back-to-back Stanley Cup appearances.
The teams have met 172 times, with the Bruins winning 89. Amazingly, the Flyers have never swept a season series from the Bruins.
Last season was the runway for this rivalry to take flight as the teams met in the Winter Classic at Fenway Park. The game was a tight battle, with the B's coming out victorious on an overtime goal by Marco Sturm.
That was the prelude to one of the most memorable playoff series in NHL history. The Bruins came storming out of the gate, with Marc Savard triumphantly coming back from a concussion to score the winning goal in Game 1, and Boston rode that momentum to two more victories.
We don't need to tell you that Philly became just the third team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit. What makes the loss hurt even more for both Bruins players and fans was the 3-0 first-period lead in Game 7, and the Bruins' all-too-familiar penalty for too many men on the ice that was their ultimate undoing. That same call cost the Bruins in the playoffs against Montreal in 1979.
The sting of that loss has brought back feelings of hatred for the Flyers as fans look for some payback.
The case for the Maple Leafs as the Bruins' biggest rival is built on familiarity. The teams have built a close association with a couple of franchise-shifting trades.
The ball started rolling on June 24, 2006, when the Bruins traded goaltender Andrew Raycroft to Toronto for goalie prospect Tuukka Rask. Raycroft spent two nondescript seasons in Toronto, compiling a 39-34-14 record in 91 games. Rask, on the other hand, emerged as the goalie of the future for the Bruins, even with an otherworldly Tim Thomas relegating him to backup this season.
Three years later came the move that will fuel the rivalry for years to come. On Sept. 18, 2009, the Bruins traded Phil Kessel to the Maple Leafs for first-round picks in 2010 and 2011 as well as a second-rounder in 2010.
Kessel, the fifth overall pick in 2006, was coming off a season in which he paced the conference-leading Bruins with 36 goals in 70 games. The winger also had won the Bill Masterson Trophy after his battle with testicular cancer. It seemed as if he would take over the role as Boston's franchise player, something the team sorely needed since the departure of Joe Thornton. Instead, Kessel returns to the Garden to a chorus of boos.
The Leafs' first-round pick in 2010 turned out to be No. 2 overall, and the B's chose Tyler Seguin, who has already made an impact on the club. With the second-round pick from the Leafs (No. 32 overall), the Bruins landed Jared Knight. They may have another lottery pick from the deal this June.
Although the teams have been on opposite ends of the standings, their games have been pretty competitive as five of the past 11 meetings have gone to overtime or a shootout. Although heavily one-sided at the moment (Bruins are 11-1-2 in their past 14 games versus the Maple Leafs), the rivalry has the makings of a doozy as the players from the draft picks develop.
Rivalries in the NHL can't be manufactured; they are the product of fans and the charged atmosphere they create when the other guys come to town.
All three of the teams above bring out the competitiveness of Bruins fans and players. But who do you think rises to the top as the B's biggest rival?
Matthew Sitkoff is an associate producer with ESPN's Production Migration unit, which powers the video on ESPN.com's city sites.