Even in our instant information, Instagram, on-demand culture, some old standbys are worth waiting for and savoring — a delicious glass of wine (Merlot of course in honor of the Bruins’ fourth line), a bike ride in the orange glow of a warm late afternoon, and the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens renewing their frozen blood feud in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Gentlemen, start your animus. Hockey’s Hatfields and McCoys are at it again, reuniting for a 34th time in the postseason. The Bruins and their eternal antagonists begin a second-round series Thursday at TD Garden. In a time of fleeting attention spans, transient players, and fungible loyalty, the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry still means not just something, but everything to the players, fans, and cities involved.
There is genuine and organic enmity between these teams, not the kind trumped up by breathless television promos. This rivalry isn’t overexposed like Red Sox-Yankees, overrated like Patriots-Jets, or on a hiatus from relevance like Celtics-Lakers. Plus, the ante has been upped because it is the first time since 1992 the teams will meet beyond the first round.
Bruins forward Milan Lucic was blunt in proclaiming his feelings for the Canadiens.
“I do [hate them], and if you ask them the same question I’m sure they’d give you the same answer about if they hate us,” Lucic told reporters Wednesday. “It’s just natural for me. Just being a part of this organization you just naturally learn to hate the Montreal Canadiens, and the battles we have had with them over the last couple of years have definitely made you hate them.”
That same quote from a Bruins player could have been uttered in 1944 or 1974, instead of 2014. The names change, the equipment evolves, but the rivalry remains the same. Well, not entirely the same, much to the relief of Bruins devotees.
Bruins-Canadiens is one of the premier rivalries in North American sports, spanning nine decades, dozens of great players, endless dislike, and countless heartbreak for the Spoked-Believers. For awhile this was as competitive a rivalry as an egg shell against the side of a frying pan — the same side always cracked.
The Canadiens have won 24 of the 33 playoff meetings and won 18 straight from 1946 to 1987.
The Habs Hex was broken in 1988. But most of the prior 18 series weren’t close.
Eleven were decided in five games or fewer. Two were three-game sweeps under a best-of-five format. Four were four-game sweeps. A pair of close 1970s series constitute two of the more devastating denouements in Bruins history — the shocking first-round defeat of the defending champion Big, Bad Bruins in 1971 and the too-many-men-on-the-ice disaster in Game 7 of the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinal.
That’s why this matchup is a real treat, if you consider looking forward to stomach-churning, perspiration-generating, heartburn-inducing games a treat.
You can’t blame any Bruins fan who is a touch ambivalent about facing the Canadiens. Winning the Stanley Cup in 2011 was certainly sweeter when the path included dumping the hated Habs in Game 7 in the first round at TD Garden. But there have been too many bitter endings courtesy of the CH sweaters, creating for fans of a certain age a kind of pucks post-traumatic stress disorder
Eliminating the Canadiens, who have won six of the teams’ last seven regular-season meetings, is never easy, but the Bruins are the better team.
They demolished Detroit in five games. They possess three reliable lines, arguably the best two-way center in the game, multiple young puck-moving defensemen, an elite, playoff battle-tested goaltender and a potent power play.
When the Bruins beat the Canadiens in 2011, they made NHL history, becoming the first club to win a seven-game playoff series without registering a power-play goal. The Black and Gold went 0 for 21. The Bruins had the highest power-play percentage in the playoffs entering play on Wednesday night. (6 for 16; 37.5 percent).
Even noted nuisance and Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban said these Bruins are better than the 2011 version that won the Stanley Cup.
By the way, I think a fascinating experiment in fan psychology would be swapping the sweaters of Brad Marchand and Subban. If Subban were a Bruin, he would be a fan favorite, even with his histrionics. If the impudent Marchand were a Canadien, he would be despised. Preferred laundry always colors perception with these teams.
It’s easy to dislike the Canadiens, who swept the Lightning, sans Tampa Bay’s Vezina Trophy finalist netminder Ben Bishop. But you have to respect the skill and guile of the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge. They’re not all Frenchmen, but the Canadiens can fly around the ice and flop on it, when required.
Max Pacioretty, the player who prompted Montreal fans to call 911 in 2011, after he was slammed into the stanchion by Zdeno Chara, is one of the best American goal scorers in the game. Subban won the Norris Trophy last year as the league’s top defenseman. No one is comparing Carey Price to canonized Montreal goalies Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden, or Patrick Roy, but Price backstopped the Canadian team to a gold medal at the Winter Olympics and has had a stellar season. He’s capable of going Dryden.
Plus, the Canadiens acquired noted Bruins-killer Thomas Vanek at the trade deadline. Vanek sees the light when he plays the Bruins, the goal light. He has 30 goals and 32 assists in 55 regular-season tilts against Boston.
The Canadiens won’t go quietly into the Hockey Night in Canada. I foresee a seven-game series, giving Montreal an extra game simply for being Montreal.
But the days of the Bruins being a frozen foil are over.
The Bruins should turn the Habs into another piece of history in this rivalry.