You don’t have to be a pucks devotee to appreciate the intensity and genuine enmity of the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry.
Hockey’s long-running passion play played out one more time Wednesday night over on Causeway Street, and it played out the way it usually has for the Bruins and their fans over the years with a soul-crushing, heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Les Glorieux. The Canadiens snatched a 6-5 shootout victory and first place in the Northeast Division from out of the ether.
This one had all the hallmarks of past gory Bruins losses to the Canadiens — blown leads, bad bounces, ill-timed penalties, and a win evaporated by a belief-defying goal.
“I guess we just weren’t meant to win that game,” said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, echoing a thought that men in the Spoked-B sweaters have probably muttered to themselves for decades.
The Canadiens are like a hockey horror villain for the Bruins. They just won’t die. The Habs have provided a lifetime full of heartache and coronaries for the Spoke-Believers. Wednesday night was the latest chapter.
The Bruins matched their season high for goals and had third-period leads of 4-2, 4-3, 5-3, and 5-4. It wasn’t enough.
The Canadiens rose from certain repose with 8.2 seconds left. Andrei Markov’s shot deflected in off the stick of Zdeno Chara to tie the proceedings.
The Bruins had killed off Montreal’s five previous power-play opportunities. But the Canadiens emptied their net and their tanks and converted on the sixth, awarded when Aaron Johnson accidentally deflected the puck over the glass with 1:27 left.
The Canadiens, who also scored a comeback win at the Garden on March 3, then took home the 2 points after a dreadful shootout. It was an unjust ending for such a great sporting event.
This was not just Game No. 32 of a fast-food season for the Bruins, or Game No. 33 for Montreal, which was playing its second game in two nights. This was a game to be circled on the calendar in (bad) blood red ink.
“It’s such a short season that you can’t give away points, and you don’t want to take nights off. But it’s always special when you play against this team,” said Canadiens forward Michael Ryder, who has been on both sides of the rivalry and hurt his old club with two goals.
Bruins-Canadiens is one of the great grudge matches that graces sports. It may be one of the more historically one-sided rivalries in all of sports, a tale of the Habs and the Hab-nots with the all-time ice titled toward the province of Quebec.
The Canadiens have 23 Stanley Cups to their ledger and the Bruins have six, although it has now been 20 years since the last time Montreal hoisted Lord Stanley’s silver chalice.
This was the 720th regular-season meeting, second only in NHL annals to Chicago and Detroit, which have squared off 723 times. The teams have played 33 playoff series, the most between any teams in NHL history, adding another 170 games.
The Canadiens have won 24 of those series, including a stretch of 18 straight from the 1946 Stanley Cup final through the 1987 Adams Division semifinals.
The eternal adversaries represent contempt and a contrast of styles. The Canadiens are finesse, softer than a down comforter, and full of more stuffing when it comes to drawing (nee, faking) penalties. The Bruins are forceful, determined, and disciplined. They are no frills, no nonsense, and don’t take any nonsense from their opponents.
The last time the teams played, Bruins coach Claude Julien accused Montreal of being the Bleu, Blanc et Ruse, instead of the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.
The Canadiens lived up to their reputation in the first period.
The Bruins got a power play when rookie Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk was called for hooking. The Boston power play was short-lived (23 seconds) though as Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban skated into a corner with Brad Marchand, grabbed the Little Big Man’s stick, and then did a trust fall to the ice.
There was no one there to catch Subban, but there was a whistle to cushion his blow.
Subban showed his only skill isn’t diving 2:53 into the second period when he unleashed a one-time rocket from somewhere around Salem Street in the North End that was top shelf — not only in placement but also in terms of goal-scoring style points — to give Montreal a 2-0 lead.
But Boston’s own blue line young buck, Dougie Hamilton, got the Black and Gold on the board 39 seconds later, starting a four-goal Bruins blitzkrieg.
The Bruins took the lead with 2:59 left in the second on their much-maligned power play. Patrice Bergeron, whose understated excellence makes him one of the more underappreciated stars in this town, collected a deflection and shoveled one past Carey Price from the left faceoff circle.
The Bruins padded their lead 35 seconds later. David Krejci flicked a pass to Nathan Horton, who charged the net like an Acela train and banged the puck home. The Bruins’ flatlining first line doing some damage.
That onslaught of vulcanized rubber was enough to send Price packing. He was replaced by Peter Budaj to start the third period.
The teams traded goals in the third. A backhand beauty from Tyler Seguin made it 5-3 with 8:10 to go. It was a stellar night for the reunited trio of Bergeron-Marchand-Seguin, who combined for three goals and 9 points.
The Canadiens wouldn’t go away though, as Brendan Gallagher shot a puck off the face of Dennis Seidenberg and tucked it in the Bruins net 28 seconds after Seguin’s strike.
That set up the wild finish, as the Hockey Gods went back to the usual page in their Bruins-Canadiens playbook.