On Saturday, well before the night's contest between the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, an effort was made to stoke the flames of passion among Lightning fans by the team's TV broadcast partner, Sun Sports. The passion was on the subject the NHL makes a big deal about. It was the "R" word: "Rival."
Lightning vs Bruins tonight. Which begs the question: WHO is the Bolts' most HATED rivalry with? Boston? Tell us who/why. Use #BoltsRivalry— Sun Sports Lightning (@SunSportsBolts) October 19, 2013
Of course, Boston and Tampa Bay already do battle on the norm in Major League Baseball with the Rays and Red Sox in the American League East. The Sox eliminated the Rays just a few weeks ago from this year's playoffs. That Sox team is now heading to the 2013 MLB World Series while the Rays get to sit home and brood about what could have been. This is on top of so many regular-season meetings between the two clubs, and the drama that has played out within them.
Tampa Bay identifying itself as having Boston as a major rival in that sport makes sense... Then compound that with the 2011 NHL Playoffs and the Eastern Conference finals (and all the drama within that series) and you have reason to be a tad worked up going against the Bruins.
But there is no rivalry here; not nearly. Not yet.
My dissent doesn't come from the (as seen on TV) statement I made to Sun Sports regarding who I think is the Lightning's biggest/most hated rival, but has to do with the ironclad fact that the Bolts just don't and haven't done anything in their 21 years of existence to support the idea they're rivals to the B's.
You cannot consider anyone a true "rival" when your all-time record against them is outright pathetic.
If the Lightning wish to overcome the Boston Bruins and be a thorn in their side in the future, that's great, that's fine, that is something to aspire for and build up the notion of a rivalry between the clubs... But in 21 years and 79 regular season games, the Bolts have a 20-45-5 record against Boston with 9 ties. They have only won (including playoff games) five times in Boston.
Other rival-type clubs have a more balanced all-time record against Tampa:
- Philadelphia Flyers: 82 GP 32-36-3 with 8 ties
- Washington Capitals: 110 GP 36-61-7 with 6 ties
- Florida Panthers: 110 GP 43-46-11 with 10 ties
- Carolina Hurricanes: 106 GP 47-44-5 with 10 ties
Of those clubs (three former Southeast Division rivals), it's Washington with the most lop-sided all time record against the Lightning. And, yet, it's also the type of situation the Bolts would want to aspire for against Boston. The Capitals were and are good, and the Lightning raised their game in contests against them. While national media played up the Caps collapse in the 2011 playoffs, no one played up the fact they were swept by their division rival (and often thorn-in-their-side) Tampa Bay.
Realignment killed off the fledgling rivalry between the two clubs which had been growing since... well, realignment that created the Southeast Division.
My point with the entire story here is, with the traditional play of the Lightning against the Bruins, it's going to take a lot more than recent playoff history and new division-opponent status to truly put the Bruins into the "rival" category, let alone the "most hated rival." The first two games against Boston this season only further stresses that fact: 0- for Tampa Bay, outscored 8-1 in those contests (if you can call them that). Fans can feel frustrated, they can hope the club aspires to do more and make a better showing against Boston in the future... But I wouldn't play up the notion they're any type of rival until it becomes true competition between the two teams. As it stands, it's anything but. It's not a bitter rivalry; it's an opponent that has the Lightning's number.