Tampa Bay vs. Detroit is Currently the Best Rivalry in the Eastern Conference

I know hockey traditionalists are going to read that headline and think I'm an idiot, but it's true.  The Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings have the best rivalry in the Eastern Conference at this time.  I'm not ready to say best in the NHL just yet because I think Anaheim vs. L.A is the best, but this one is close.  Now obviously I'm not talking about all time here.  I'm just talking about right now.  Most of the traditional rivalries have really calmed down the last few years.  The Bruins and Canadiens haven't had a fight since 2014.  The Rangers are one of the softest teams in the league and don't have much of a rivalry with anyone.  The Penguins and Flyers rivalry has died down.  A lot of the old school rivalries have not been great of late.  Chicago vs. St. Louis is still good, but not at the level of Detroit vs. Tampa Bay physically.

Tampa Bay and Detroit have faced off in the playoffs each of the last two seasons, and last year's series is really when the rivalry took off.  The series was full of physical play and fights from two teams that were not known for that style of play.  That series has certainly carried over into this season.

First, a history lesson.  In the 2015 playoffs, Tampa Bay and Detroit met in the first round.  This was the beginning of the rivalry.  The Lightning won that series in 7 games and went on to the Stanley Cup Finals.  In 2016, the two teams met again.  The Lightning won that series in 5 games, and the series was full of physical play.  There were huge hits and scrums throughout the series, but one of the defining moments was the brawl to end game two.

Game three was just as physical, and this became a full blown rivalry.  The game ended almost exactly the same way as game two.

Fast forward to this season, and the rivalry has picked up right where it left off.  The two teams met on opening night, and it went exactly as you would expect.

These guys met again tonight on NBCSN and it was one of the best games I've seen all season.  It felt like a playoff game from start to finish and was full of energy and emotion.  The game was very physical, and one of the best moments was Steve Ott absolutely destroying Cedric Paquette, and then Brian Boyle sticking up for his teammate.

So obviously these two teams hate each other at this point, and I've just been pointing out the fights and physicality.  That type of animosity and violence in essential to an NHL rivalry, but it is not everything.  These games have been extremely competitive and featured great hockey as well.  Both teams are skilled and have a lot of talented players.  Most of their matchups have been close games and all of them have been fun to watch.  It's not just the violence that makes a rivalry, it's the quality of games and competition as well.  Over the past couple of years, this rivalry has blossomed into one of the best in the NHL.  It is a must watch game every time these two teams face off.  I would absolutely love to see them face off in the playoffs for a third straight season, although that seems unlikely.  The old school rivalries and original six matchups will always be the best overall, but right now, in 2016, there is no better rivalry than Tampa Bay vs. Detroit.