The Montréal Canadiens/Boston Bruins rivalry is the most storied in the National Hockey League. The two teams have battled each other every season for nearly 100 years, producing some of the most famous moments in NHL history. Yvon Lambert’s overtime winner in Game 7 of the 1979 NHL semifinals after the Bruins’ penalty for too many men on the ice, Stan Jonathan’s dusting of Pierre Bouchard in 1978, Maurice Richard’s suspension during the Quiet Revolution, and the closing of the Boston Garden in 1995, among countless others.
It’s been a very long time since the Canadiens and Bruins weren’t connected. Last season, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to make changes to its division structure and playoff format, the Habs and Bruins were prohibited from playing each other as the league only permitted intra-division play. Now that it has been confirmed the league is returning to its traditional divisions and a regular schedule, the rivalry between the Habs and Bruins can restart. The offseason additions made by both teams and the return of fans make the matchups must-see TV once again.
Offseason Additions Will Improve the Canadiens and the Bruins
In almost mirror moves, the Canadiens and Bruins both dipped into the free-agency pool to bolster their squads for the upcoming season. The Canadiens’ big additions David Savard, Mike Hoffman, and Christian Dvorak (via trade) will shore up key areas of concern from seasons past. Savard will help the new defence core shut down opposition and serve as part of the group that replaces Shea Weber, due to the captain’s likely lengthy stint on injured reserve. Hoffman will provide an extensive boost to the Habs’ offence and power play, as his lethal wrist shot has seen him score at least 20 goals in six of the past seven seasons. Dvorak will serve as the Canadiens’ second-line centre and a special teams stalwart, acting as the middle man for the Habs’ man advantage and penalty kill.
Don Sweeney’s boys from Beantown also embarked on a free agency quest and plucked a few gems out. Historically a team known for grit and a “lunch-pail” attitude, the Bruins’ offseason moves combined this attitude with the new era of skill and scoring. Sweeney brought in forwards Thomas Nosek, Erik Haula, and Nick Foligno. All three new Bruins are left-handed shots who can act as wingers or centres. Sweeney did an excellent job of finding multiple replacements for departed winger David Krejci, as each new addition plays a similar style. Namely, a seamless two-way game and scoring touches – of varying degrees – that will compliment the Bruins nicely, especially since they can now study under the tutelage of Patrice Bergeron. The addition of Foligno will have an immediate impact, as he brings a reputation as one of the hardest working and most well-respected players in the league.
Full Bell Centre, Full TD Garden
Apart from the obvious lack of head-to-head matchups between the Canadiens and Bruins, last season was also missing another crucial element that makes the rivalry (and all others in the league) special. Along with prohibiting both levels of domestic and all international travel, the pandemic kept fans from seeing their favourite teams in person until the 2021 playoffs began, when teams began admitting fans once again. The Canadiens held 3,500 at the Bell Centre for their series against the Vegas Golden Knights and Tampa Bay Lightning, while the Bruins returned to full capacity in their second-round clash with the New York Islanders.
Canadiens and Bruins fans are simply one part of what makes the rivalry between the two teams one of the fiercest in the league. The discontent with each other’s fan bases is not limited to the diehards either. Mike Johnson, former Canadien turned analyst, has said
“It’s not just the fringe, crazy, passionate fan that thinks this. It’s everyone, top to bottom.”Former NHLer Mike Johnson on the passion of the Habs-Bruins rivalry. (from “The Greatest Hate of All.” Ryan Dixon Sportsnet. 01/01/16)
Without the cheers, boos, name-calling, and other flowery language toward players that usually comes with rivalry games, those which did occur last season (Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings, Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers) seemed somewhat lifeless and watered down. There were no collective groans when referees made questionable calls. No shouting when misconduct went unpunished. Perhaps most importantly, there was no banter between fans and players or between sets of fans, save for those who gathered in front of their televisions to watch.
The COVID-19 pandemic initially deprived all fans of all sports, and then as they slowly returned deprived fans of traditional rivalries that had been mainstays of their respective leagues. The NHL was no exception, as the league put itself on hold from March to August 2020, and came back the next season with an altered schedule and limited travel. After a year and a half, the Canadiens and Bruins are raring to play each other once again. Both teams are bringing successful and improved teams to the new start, and the added excitement that will surely come as a result of the pandemic pause will once again make the Canadiens-Bruins rivalry the best in the league.
Covering the Pittsburgh Penguins and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.