Cam Neely vs. Ulf Samuelsson and the brutal history of Bruins/Penguins rivalry

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins renewed their rivalry in the 2013 Eastern Conference Playoffs, with the Bruins sweeping the Penguins in the conference finals. It was a humbling dismissal of Sidney Crosby’s team, which faces the Bruins for the first time since the series on Wednesday’s “Rivalry Night” on NBCSN.

Of course, it was also a reversal of fortunes from 20 years ago.

From 1991-1992, the Wales Conference championship was decided between the Bruins and the Penguins, with the Penguins winning twice en route to consecutive Stanley Cup championships.

The greatest battle within that battle may have been the Bruins prototypical power winger Cam Neely against the Penguins’ win-at-all-costs defenseman Ulf Samuelsson.

The two would battle in front of the crease, neither giving an inch to the other. Sticks, elbows, knees … they physical battle between the two was perfectly symbolic of the struggle between two star-laden titans of the East.

But their rivalry’s apex came on another symbolic play on May 3, 1991; symbolic in the way it epitomized the player Samuelsson was to the majority of players and fans in the NHL.

From Peter May of the NY Times, looking back at Game 3 of the conference finals and a hit that left Mike Milbury bashing a stick against the glass in anger:

Samuelsson caught Neely with a leg check just outside the Boston blue line as Neely attempted to poke the puck around the Penguins’ defenseman. Both players hit the ice. Neely eventually left the game. Pittsburgh won the series in six games – after trailing, 2-0 — on its way to the Stanley Cup title.

Neely played in just 22 games in the next two seasons and only 162 of a possible 410 before retiring. Although he said in his retirement speech that the Samuelsson hit “is behind me,’’ he added he had no respect for the way Samuelsson played.

The Samuelsson hit was seen as a dirty one, although it wasn't penalized.

Neely’s retirement was revealed to be linked to a degenerative hip disorder and not Samuelsson’s hit. But that provided little solace to those who blamed the defenseman for ending Neely’s career.

Check out a new “NHL Rivals” at 10:30 pm. ET on Tuesday night for more.