Is the Boston/Vancouver Rivalry of 2011 Dead?

The Stanley Cup Finals of 2011 was the birthplace of an unlikely rivalry between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks.

Tuesday night’s clash in Boston between the Bruins and Vancouver Canucks marked the fifth meeting between the two clubs since then.  The two teams only play each other twice a year now thanks to the new CBA and outside of the occasional post-whistle scrum, the rivalry appears to have fizzled. After an epic seven-game series between the teams however, fans had this matchup circled on their calendars.

Setting the Stage

Vancouver won the Presidents Trophy five seasons ago, racking up 117 points and earning home-ice advantage throughout the postseason. Boston won the Northeast Division and overcame the hated Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers, and Tampa Bay Lightning to reach their first Cup Final since the days of Cam Neely and Ray Bourque in 1990. It was a clash of styles pitting Vancouver’s speed and skill against Boston’s grit and physicality. The Bruins knew going into the series that they would have to stir the pot and ignite a rivalry to get the Canucks out of their comfort zone.

Lighting the Match

Game one saw the first of three major flashpoints throughout the series. Vancouver forward Alexandre Burrows took a bite out of Patrice Bergeron’s finger while engaging in a scrum behind the net at the end of a testy first period. He did not receive any supplemental discipline for the bite, but it would prove to light the first spark of hatred between the clubs. The Canucks held serve at home, winning 1-0 in game one and 3-2 in game two thanks to an overtime goal by Burrows.

The first period of game three in Boston bore witness to the turning point of the series when Aaron Rome laid out Nathan Horton with a late hit to the head. The Canucks defenseman would be suspended for the rest of the series while Boston’s clutch winger would also miss out due to a concussion.

It would prove to be the spark the Bruins needed to take control of the series. Boston responded by putting 8 goals past Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo in game three and four more goals by him two nights later. They rallied behind the injury to the #18, tying the series at two games apiece heading back to Rogers Arena.

Luongo returned to form, posting his second 1-0 shutout victory of the series over Boston in game five. A third-period goal from Maxim Lapierre proved to be the difference that night, after Bruins goalie Tim Thomas was caught out of his net playing a loose puck. Luongo’s 31-save shutout performance lead to this memorable postgame quote calling out Thomas for his unorthodox style:

“It’s not hard if you’re playing in the paint. It’s an easy save for me.”

Boston responded in game six, scoring three times on Luongo in 3:04. He was pulled for the second time in the series after allowing only two goals in three home games. The Bruins would go on to force game seven after a 5-2 victory at TD Garden. Boston’s 4-0 game seven victory clinched the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since the days of Orr back in 1972.

January 7, 2012

The series spawned a rivalry that bubbled over to their first meeting since the Cup Finals. The two teams combined for 107 penalty minutes in a Saturday afternoon matinée that saw a bit of everything including a first-period donnybrook, Canucks enforcer Dale Wiese backing down after challenging Bruins enforcer Thornton, and Brad Marchand given a game misconduct after clipping Sami Salo. Vancouver got their revenge, winning the game 4-3 thanks to four power-play goals. Boston’s pesky winger was given a five-game suspension for his actions.

Fanning the Flame

Things have changed dramatically since 2011 and 2012, most notably the trade of Luongo to the Florida Panthers last season and the hiring of first-year NHL head coach Willie Desjardins. The two teams have been largely void of bad blood since, combining for just 52 penalty minutes in their past four meetings.

It has suited the Canucks well having won four of five matchups against the Black and Gold post-2011 after Tuesday night’s 2-1 victory in Boston. The transgressions of games past seem to have been left in the rearview mirror as both clubs have moved on from the events of June 2011.

Tuesday night’s offering between the two combatants was more about playoff positioning than fisticuffs and revenge. The Boston/Vancouver “rivalry” appears to be nothing more than the glowing embers of what once was an uncontrollable flame.