Rivalries Blossoming in Boston With Canadiens, Lakers Both Heading to TD Garden


February 9, 2011

Rivalries Blossoming in Boston With Canadiens, Lakers Both Heading to TD Garden It?s rivalry week at the TD Garden, as the Bruins welcome the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, one night before the Celtics play host to the Los Angeles Lakers. 

How sweet it is, that both of these rivalries matter in the year 2011 and have risen through the ashes of irrelevance into something that evokes the fervent emotions that had fizzled into nothingness not too long ago.

In fact, all four of Boston?s major sports teams are currently engaged at a pertinent and meaningful level with their respective arch nemeses. When was the last time you could say that?

When the Red Sox and Yankees were mired in a downright nasty and irrevocably thrilling rivalry in 2003 and 2004, the Celtics were about as relevant to the Lakers as the Jets were to the Patriots in those respective years. 

In the 1960s and 1980s when a Lakers-Celtics Finals matchup was sure to captivate the senses and minds of Bostonians, most people in the region had no idea New England even had a football team (save 1986), let alone reserve any ill emotions toward any team wearing green in New York.

The list of bad timing can go on and on. 

Sure, not all these rivalries are clicking on all cylinders right now, but they are all clicking at a high enough level to make any rivalry meeting a must-see in 2011. Perhaps the Patriots and Jets are the only rivalry involving one of Boston?s four major sports teams that has reached a new peak. With that being said, the other three aren?t too far behind on the intensity meter. 

Getting back to hockey, the Bruins and Canadiens reignited their dying flame in 2002 and 2004, when Montreal beat Boston in the first round of the playoffs.  Both times the Bruins were the higher seed — the No 1 seed in ’02 and the No. 2 seed in ’04.

But it wasn?t until the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs when hockey truly returned to the city of Boston, and with it, a time-honored rivalry. Although top-seeded Montreal went on to win that quarterfinal series in seven games, it was a wild 5-4 victory in Boston (when the Bruins needed to come from behind three times) that brought hockey back to the Hub after far too long.

The two old foes would meet again the following year in the first round, only in 2009 the Bruins would come in as the No. 1 seed and dispatch the Canadiens in four straight.

It is not time to start obsessing over the standings quite yet. Even though Montreal is 3-0 against Boston so far this season, the Bruins hold a slim two-point lead in the Northeast Division with a game in hand over the Canadiens. Interestingly enough, if the playoffs were to start Wednesday, the Bruins would have the third seed and host the Canadiens in the first round.

It is wishful thinking, but plausible. At least it matters to the fans again every time these two teams square off. 

How fortunate are Celtics and Lakers fans to have this rivalry back?  The Celtics and Lakers have now met in the NBA Finals 12 times, with Boston holding a 9-3 advantage.

With the recent renewal of this rivalry, a Celtics-Lakers Finals matchup is one that generations can share. Fans from both cities have grandparents, parents and now children who have been able to witness historic clashes between two of the most storied franchises in all of sport. Take a second to let that sink in.

Some rivals clash every year on a regular basis, offering fans countless memorable moments to reminisce about. But what is so unique about the Celtics-Lakers rivalry is that when fans of either team share their favorite memories, they are inherently referring to some of the all-time greats of basketball, who were playing on the biggest stage the NBA has to offer.

It is hard to fathom just how wondrous such a phenomenon is. The Celtics and Lakers have met in multiple Finals in the same decade in three different decades. The two met six times in the ’60s (not including their first ever meeting in 1959), three times in the ’80s, and twice in the past decade (counting 2010 as last decade for argument?s sake).

We have all witnessed basketball greatness in Boston and Los Angeles, but harnessing the magnitude of these moments is the true gift of this rivalry. It is great NBA theater.

Even though we are well into February, one cannot mention rivalry in New England with out delving into the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, and what fun they seem poised to have this summer. 

The Red Sox enjoyed an offseason in which they bolstered their bullpen, traded for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and swooped in to sign outfielder Carl Crawford. The 2011 offseason was a wondrous coup for the Sox, similar to the Yankees’ 2009 offseason when they signed A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, and C.C. Sabathia. We all know what happened that year.

The Sox and Yanks meet at least 18 times per season and have gone 9-9 in each of the last three, respectively.

It has been seven years since the Sox and Yanks have met in the postseason. Both teams have won at least one World Series since 2004 and both have won two since the turn of the century. Long gone are the decades where the Yankees rack up titles while the Sox conjure up ghost stories to explain an 86-year drought. The playing field is level now between these two franchises.

Boston and New York both feature tough lineups, and while the Red Sox have the edge in the pitching department on paper ? well, its only paper.

If both teams play to their potential, and barring any debilitating injury bug like the Red Sox suffered last season, we should see both teams end the year with 90 or more wins and a playoff berth. At that point, the Red Sox and Yankees would be just three wins away each from their first postseason meeting since 2004.

Come the end of summer, assuming the NFL can sort out that Collective Bargaining Agreement mess, we will be greeted with the missing cog in the local rivalry scene, yet another Boston-New York matchup: Patriots versus Jets.

Jets head coach Rex Ryan — the perfect villain for this rivalry — showed New England that they could back up their talk this year. It?s not the Patriot way, but Ryan gets just as much (perhaps more?) out of his players that Bill Belichick does out of his.

If the Pats had beaten the Jets in January, the Jets would still just be a minor thorn in the side of the Patriots — perhaps how the Yankees may have viewed the Red Sox before ’04.

But it was the Jets who went to the AFC Championship for the second time in as many years. There has always been an abundance of animosity between the two teams, from Belichick leaving the Jets for the Pats, to Spygate, to Tripgate and even to foot jokes.

There is much fun and excitement in store for Boston sports fans in 2011. Take the spectator joyride one game at a time and try to grasp the fact that this could be the most thrilling year you will ever have as a Boston sports fan, thanks in large part to such enticing and deeply rooted rivalries culminating at once.

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