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Growing up as a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, John Tavares remembers the great playoff battles his favourite team had with the Ottawa Senators.

It doesn’t seem likely he’ll get to write his own chapter in the rivalry any time soon.

Toronto has Stanley Cup aspirations after this summer’s addition down the middle of Tavares, the biggest free agent to hit the market in a generation, while Ottawa is in rebuild mode after dealing captain and star defenceman Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks on the eve of training camp.

The Leafs and Senators, who meet at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night, tangled in the playoffs on four occasions between 1999-2000 and 2003-04, with Toronto coming out on top each time.

Two of the series went seven games, one went six and another ended in a sweep during a period in which opposing fans regularly cursed names such as Darcy Tucker and Daniel Alfredsson.

“It was obviously very intense,” Tavares recalled after practice on Friday. “Being division opponents in the same province, you develop that type of bad blood over the years.

“Just some great hockey, some emotional games, some big goals.”

But Toronto went on to miss the postseason 10 of the next 11 years after the 2004-05 lockout, while Ottawa made the playoffs seven times, including a run to the Cup final in 2007, causing the rivalry to fizzle somewhat.

The teams are now at opposite ends of the spectrum ahead of the first meeting of 2018-19, but Leafs head coach Mike Babcock will be looking for a lot more from his players after Wednesday’s lacklustre 3-2 overtime victory against the Montreal Canadiens on opening night.

“You’re going to get a challenge,” he said. “Teams aren’t coming in here to lose.

“Everybody at this time of the year is real confident in their team and feeling good about themselves.”

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