For the eighth time, the Bruins and the Sabres are battling in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But since the NHL changed its playoff format for the 1993-94 season — before which a team would play by seeding according to its division — the two longtime rivals have met only once in the playoffs.
The last time the two met, in 1999, the Sabres beat the Bruins in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals, then went on to win the conference and lose to Dallas in six games in the Stanley Cup finals.
While Hall of Famer and current Bruins vice president Cam Neely still thinks some bitterness can arise in this current series, which the Sabres lead 1-0, he would much rather the NHL revert to the old format, which allowed the Sabres and Bruins to meet often in the playoffs as they fought their way out of the Adams Division to play for the conference title. While there were definitely some after-the-whistle shenanigans in Game 1 on Thursday, there surely won't be any brawls in the Zamboni entrance, as there was when Wayne Cashman was drilled by Jim Shoenfield.
"When you don't play each other in the playoffs often enough, it's hard to maintain those rivalries, and that's what I always loved about the old setup — playing out of your division and facing those teams so much to create the bitterness you need for a rivalry to fester," Neely said.
That's not to say the rivalry can't be renewed with this series, since the teams play each other six times in the regular season. But just as Boston's renewed rivalry with Montreal benefited from the fact that the two teams met in the first round of the playoffs from 2007-2009, seeing Buffalo more at this time of year would help reignite the hatred necessary for a true rivalry.
"I'm sure it will only take a few games to get [the rivalry] back, and we've played them a lot in the regular season," Neely acknowledged. "They know us well and we know them, so maybe that can give our fans a flavor of what type of games they will [see], and there's still some familiarity, but it's not the same. You still need those long, drawn-out series, playing every other day.
"There's plenty of excitement, regardless, in the playoffs, but when you have a team you've played throughout history, fans certainly remember the old playoff battles — and I'm sure some of the older fans have plenty of Buffalo-Boston memories, but the newer generations probably need a long, tough series for both clubs to build their own hatred and memories. That's always good for the fans, the players and the NHL, to have that continuous rivalry."
Of course, Neely doesn't want to remember a certain series against Buffalo that he was part of as a player — but he still treasures the four times he was part of the Adams Division rivalry.
"I got too many bad memories of the playoffs," Neely joked. "There's been some great series I was part of, though, and against Buffalo, too, so now it's time for these guys to add to it."
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