This is a fairly new rivalry but it's one of the biggest current rivalries. There are plenty of reasons for the rivalry but none more important than a seven game series to decide who would represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. As Sabres fans we are well aware that the Canes won the series and eventually went on to win the Stanley Cup. A Canes fan will say the better team won but as a Sabres fan we always dream about what could have been if four regular defensemen weren't on the shelf. The Sabres were forced to play Doug Janik, Rory Fitzpatrick and Jeff Jillson on the blue line because of the injuries and still battled for two periods in the final game.
The rivalry becomes even more heated because there is a perception that hockey should not be played in the South and that North Carolina is College Basketball Country, that makes Canes fans very passionate in defending their team. There are plenty of transplanted Buffalonians in the Carolinas and they try their best to claim Carolina as Sabres territory which helps facilitate the tension between the two fan bases.
The best part of this rivalry is that even though both teams have fallen a bit in the standings, the rivalry continues. There is a genuine pure hatred for the other team and you have even heard players talk about it. I feel some rivalries are more of a myth than anything else but this one is real.
Bubba from Canes Country does a great job at his site, even though he is a Canes fan, and he was kind enough to share his thoughts on the Sabres-canes rivalry...
The kind folks here at "Die By The Blade" have asked me for my opinion about whether or not Carolina Hurricanes fans feel that there is a rivalry between the Hurricanes and Sabres. While I certainly can't speak for all Caniacs, I will say that I think that there most definitely is a rivalry, and it gets rather heated at times.
First of all, anytime two teams play in such a close, neck and neck Conference Finals Series that goes to 7 games and of course the winners go on to play for Lord Stanley's Hardware while the losers go home, there is going to be some residual animosity. That was an incredible series and I can understand why Sabres fans would have an intense dislike for the Hurricanes.
But many Hurricanes fans have a mutual dislike for Buffalo, more so than any other conquered foe during the playoffs that season. Where there is a respect for the Oilers, their coaching staff, and organization, there is nothing but contempt for the Buffalo Sabres counterparts.
Part of the reason for this is because of the apparent lack of respect from the Sabres, during and even after the series. The Buffalo coaching staff called the team divers. (like Derek Roy or Jason Pominville never took a tumble). From the fans perspective, Lindy Ruff resorted to outright lies to try to fire his team up or gain some edge. (for instance champagne on ice during game 6, when it was one wine bottle in the office).
Even afterwards, Sabres fans continued to say that Buffalo would have won the series if they were healthy, not taking into consideration that the Hurricanes had the better overall record for the year and had earned home ice advantage for that series, for good reason. Also, the Canes lost one of their leading scorers, Erik Cole, so the injury excuse didn't hold metal with Caniacs.
Many felt that If Buffalo fans had an ax to grind, it should have been with their management who never added anyone significant before the trade deadline. Carolina on the otherhand added Mark Recchi and Doug Weight to compensate for their injuries.
If those reasons aren't enough, I can give a couple more. There are countless Buffalo transplants down here now, and of course most have kept their Sabres allegiance and are very vocal during the games when Buffalo visits here. They are probably the loudest and most boisterous of any other visiting contingent of fans. Sometimes there are even confrontations, (more so than with other fans). Yes, that helps to fuel rivalries.
Having said all of that, there's nothing like a good rivalry to get fans fired up and generate more interest. It's a long season and the more rivalries, the better for the league. In my opinion Buffalo is one of Carolina's biggest rivals, even if they are out of division, and it will probably stay that way for many years to come.