Charlie Coyle’s favorite Bruins-Canadiens memory: Game 6 of the 2008 playoffs. Remember that one?
The teams traded goals, and Marco Sturm scored to give the Bruins a dramatic 5-4 win. A 16-year-old Coyle, who traveled from Weymouth with friends and cousins to pound the old yellow seats at TD Garden, wasn’t alone in thinking the Bruins, after a few down years, just might be back.
“I was in one of the top rows up there, [the] nosebleeds,” Coyle said, standing in front of his locker before the puck drop of Wednesday night’s 4-1 win vs. Montreal. “Atmosphere was unbelievable. It was just so cool to be there watching. I always wondered what it would be like playing here . . . against them . . . for the Bruins.
“It’s not always like that,” he added, switching focus to the game. “It’s two points. You can’t get caught up in it.”
For the last 96 years, the Bruins and Canadiens have combined for dozens of games and moments worth savoring. In this context, the mere mention of a calendar year can bring a warming grin (1988) or a smack of the palm against a table (1979). As the last Boston-Montreal game of the regular season arrived — the 750th edition of a rivalry first contested in 1924 — it had all hit a bit of a lull.
Wednesday night, however, tempers flared. In particular, Brad Marchand and Jeff Petry, and Zdeno Chara and Brendan Gallagher (a mismatch of 12 inches in height) had some heat. It was nothing like the old days, though the go-go action was plenty entertaining on its own.
The teams last met in the playoffs in 2014. These Habs arrived on Causeway Street eight points out of the second wild card (held by Philadelphia), with Florida and Carolina in between. The Bruins had outscored them, 15-7, in three games this season.
At puck drop, there weren’t as many red shirts in the audience as in the past.
“I don’t think it’s as passionate as it was in Mike’s day,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said pregame, nodding at NBC Sports broadcaster Mike Milbury, the former B’s coach and defenseman who was sitting in the back of the room. In those days, of (Terry) O’Reilly and (Chris) Nilan and (Jay) Miller and (John) Kordic, players arrived ready for battle.
Growing up in Ottawa a fan of the Black and Gold, Cassidy loathed Les Habitants. He now considers himself a “big part” of the rivalry, and takes it upon himself to shed a little light for newcomers in the B’s dressing room. But he conceded that Toronto is the main rival around here these days. The Habs haven’t made the playoffs in two seasons.
“I miss it,” Cassidy said. “The next time there’s a playoff series, it’ll be reignited.”
Maybe the Habs hatred started here: when the Canadian Press triumphantly covered the defending world champions’ 4-3 win at Boston Arena on Dec. 8, 1924.
The lead of that article boasted that “5,000 hockey fans [got] the best exhibition of the Canadian game on record here.
“The ice was a little soft,” the article continued, “but in spite of that handicap the lightning-like Canadien forwards displayed their wares successfully. The game opened with what was probably the fastest exhibition of hockey ever seen by Boston fans.”
In the Globe, writer John J. Hallahan gave the visitors their due: “All the praises that have been sung . . . were justified,” he wrote, adding that “the Flying Frenchmen” gave Boston its first taste of big-league professional hockey.
The uninitiated should know: this goes back a long way.
Pleading the fourth
Shortly after taking over Boston’s bench three years ago last Friday, Cassidy placed trust in his fourth line.
It has rewarded him. Tim Schaller and Noel Acciari have departed, and Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom have arrived, and Sean Kuraly remains. This season has been fits and starts for the No. 4 trio, which hasn’t consistently found the buzzsaw mode it engaged last year.
Last year’s Wagner-Kuraly-Acciari fourth line was outscored, 14-8, but was a possession-driver, gaining 55 percent of the scoring chances and shots.
Swapping out Acciari (19 goals for Florida) for Nordstrom has been a net negative, but that’s in large part to Nordstrom’s injury issues. He was back on Wednesday, after missing four games with an allergic reaction.
In nearly 220 minutes together, the line has been outscored, 12-3, and gained 42 percent of both shots and shot attempts while on the ice. They’ve had less than 37 percent of scoring chances.
Nordstrom wouldn’t go into detail about the allergy, but said it’s under control.
“It’s been an issue for me for a little more than half a season, sickness and an injury,” he said. “We want to be good. We want to be reliable.
“There’s been stretches we’ve been playing really well. We’ve had some tough matchups and done a really good job. We want to be consistent on that part.”
The line made an impact on Wednesday, Cassidy starting the trio as a tone-setter and receiving nine hits in return. Nordstrom had a team-high 4 smacks.
Better yet, Kuraly and David Pastrnak combined for the 2-0 goal with a pretty lead feed from the former to his elite (temporary) linemate.
To start the game, Cassidy moved Anders Bjork to the left side of the third line, and played Danton Heinen on the right side. Bjork played in his 100th career game . . . Tuukka Rask, who lost as the surprise starter Sunday in Detroit, got the start and is expected to start Saturday’s matinee against the Red Wings. Jaroslav Halak, managing his lingering upper body injury, is in line for Manhattan on Sunday . . . Defenseman Connor Clifton (upper body) could return for this weekend’s back-to-back . . . Montreal entered with the best power play on the road (27 percent).