Folks, the vibes they are good today. The Ottawa Senators deserve full credit because given all of the adversity they have faced, particularly of late, the team absolutely could have mailed it in for a Friday-Saturday back-to-back set. And it feels that much better because they swept said weekend series against their two most proximate geographical rivals.
Despite their disparate places in the conference standings, both teams present a significant symbolic opportunity, and the Sens rose to the challenge. And in that spirit, I want to know which rivalry you will always turn up for, no matter what the circumstances. We’ve had some long and lean years in Ottawa and in many instances these rivals have held polar opposite positions in the standings. But whether playoff- or lottery-bound, haters they are going to hate. So rain or shine, which of these matchups will you catch every single time with your undivided attention (and ire)?
Toronto Maple Leafs
Following these two fanbases, you wouldn’t know that nearly 20 years have passed since the battle of Ontario crossed over into postseason territory. The animosity is real and often unpleasant. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time elapses or how much the rosters turn over, everybody hates everybody in the battle of Ontario. The Sens want to prove that they can one day beat Toronto in the postseason. Toronto wants to prove that they can win in the postseason, period. Every draft, every trade, every game, we stack these two against each other and keep the score. Both fanbases will tell you that their respective team currently holds the lead. Until they meet again in the spring, we wait.
Ask a Sens fan and they’ll tell you that their disdain for the Habs isn’t necessarily worse than it is for the Leafs—it’s different. Both fanbases, Montreal and Toronto, are obnoxious in ways that I can’t put into words and also I can’t compare. Both have this pretension of ancient history and urban sprawl coupled with a sense modern sophistication that Ottawa ostensibly can’t match, and yet neither rival goes the same way about it. Although technically closer, Montreal represents a different province and a philosophy incompatible with the Sens fan’s. In this rivalry we have much more recent bad blood from the postseason and somewhat comparable current trajectories so this rivalry feels rather tangible compared to that of Ottawa’s with Toronto. Again, the rosters have turned over but the resentment lives on.
This one gets my vote even though we have a national border in between us. I think I feel most passionately about this one because in approximately 99% of the Sens games I’ve attended in person, Ottawa played against Buffalo. I’ve still never gotten tickets to a game against Toronto and maybe twice in thirty years have I seen games against Montreal in person. The playoff rivalry against the Sabres isn’t ancient history like it is with Toronto and yet less recent than Ottawa’s postseason meetings with Montreal. Like the Habs, Buffalo finds itself on a somewhat comparable trajectory to Ottawa’s right now which gives an immediate sense of urgency to gaining the upper hand strategically. Both Ottawa and Buffalo have an kind of unwanted stepchild identity about them in the old Northeastern configuration when stacked up against their more storied contemporaries and I think that contributes to the existential need to vanquish the other.
Ottawa only has a perfect postseason resume against one of these candidates even though the Bruins have arguably played some of the best hockey consistently during the Senators’ existence—hooray for impossibly small sample sizes! Despite how well the Bruins have played in recent memory, I feel like games between Ottawa and Boston have pound-for-pound provided the best entertainment value of any of these matchups. Games against Toronto and Montreal have the acrimony but always seem to end in blowouts one way or the other. Games against Buffalo don’t have the same feistiness but the ledger seems relatively even. Against Boston, I know Ottawa has lost they fair share of regular season games, but it feels (without looking at the number at all) like these meetings have the best balance of competition and hostility.
Now in summary I should very explicitly state that I have not crunched any numbers here (but damn that seems like a good project for a rainy day!). I’m going entirely by my gut and I encourage you to do the same. I also encourage you to write-in with off-ballot options. We also hate the Rangers, Flyers, and Penguins (so much). And with some renewed confidence coming off two big wins over two teams we can’t stand, talk a little smack. We haven’t had much cause for arrogance over the past ??? years. Haterade!
Favourite Worst Enemy