Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins Rivalry is Still Strong

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For many, a Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs game is the one that makes them turn off their phone, dim the lights and zone in alone.  For others, it’s a Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins game that is marked on their calendar when the NHL schedule is released.

There is a legitimate debate surrounding which team drives Canadiens fans crazier.  The Leafs-Habs rivalry is the oldest in the NHL.  The generations who instilled an early love of the game on those who are fans today also instilled their stubborn Leafs baggage.  I hate the Leafs because I know I should, because the teams hate each other and because the cities of Montreal and Toronto are in a constant battle to claim superiority.

However, as with the war between the cities, it’s harder to appreciate a lopsided rivalry; and the truth is, the Toronto Maple Leafs were never a legitimate threat to my hockey sensibility.  Don’t get me wrong, I hate losing to the Leafs.   The devastating 2007 loss when the Canadiens’ playoff chances were crushed in a final regular season game against the Leafs was heartbreaking enough to feel like a playoff game.  But, it wasn’t.  My hatred for the Leafs can only run so deep because in my lifetime the two teams have never met in the playoffs.

The Emotion Behind the Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens Rivalry

The Bruins are the one team that make me violent, albeit verbally – you have to rise above your enemies, after all.   In the late 80s and early 90s, season after season the Habs lost to the Bruins in the then Division Finals, even with the legendary Patrick Roy in nets.  I remember hating Cam Neely, Ray Bourque and Andy Moog; because they were good.  I respect them now but at the time I remember needing days to recover from the loss and seething with hatred for the Bruins.  I don’t think I could even bring myself to see how the Bs fared after the Habs were eliminated.

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Then the tides turned.  In 2002, the Bruins, led by Joe Thornton, won the Northeast division when the season closed.  The Habs were at the bottom of the Conference.  The Big, Bad Bruins stormed into Montreal but Montreal came away the underdog victors. In 2004, not only were the Habs the underdogs, but they came back from a 1-3 series deficit to beat the Bs in 7 games.  It was a playoff series I will never forget.  The elation was almost like winning the Cup. Almost.

When the Habs last won the Cup in 1993, they didn’t face the Bruins in the playoffs and I was thankful.  But the following year, as the defending Cup champs, the Canadiens were eliminated in the first round by the Bs.  Since 1994, the Habs and Bruins have faced each other five times in the playoffs.  The Habs have won three of those match ups thanks to Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, Jose Theodore, Carey Price, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov.

“I’m looking forward to being a part of it in person, and to feel it, because you see it on TV and you know the history,” said new Bruins forward Jarome Iginla, who is about to take part in his first regular season game wearing black and gold at the Bell Centre. “All games are fun to play in, but it’s fun to play in the ones that have a little bit more on the line with that rivalry there.”

As time passes, the faces may change but the emotion embedded in this long-standing rivalry never does.

The Rivalry Continues

Recent history would indicate that the antagonism between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens is stronger than ever. Games are not just fight-filled affairs; they are at best disrespectful and at their worst ugly.

When asked about the dissension between the teams, Bruins head coach Claude Julien had this to say: “There is plenty of hatred, and I say that as a rivalry, on both sides…It really is deep down where you are, and how you feel. Right now I don’t like them.”

The rivalry is at a point where my mother would refuse tickets behind the bench to a Bruins game because the bitterness is too intense for her to appreciate the game.  She hates the Bruins and watches those games through her fingers.  She hates their aggressive style and fears for the safety of our players. I am more fearful of a loss.

Tonight, It Might Get Loud

Thursday night’s game might not be a playoff game but it will feel like one.  This is the first of three meetings between the two during the regular season.  In the past, it never really mattered where the Bs or Habs sat in the standings when they met because history and pride elevated these games to monumental proportions; they were, and are, driven by the emotions of the players and carried by the energy of the fans.  It’s what continues to feed the rivalry with each passing year.

This season the stakes are higher. The Bruins have had the recent edge with two visits to the Cup Finals in the last four years – my hatred runs deep enough that as far as I, and many Canadiens fans, are concerned no one won the Cup in 2011.  The Habs have struggled but they are emerging.  Last season’s 2nd place Eastern Conference finish is no longer considered an anomaly.  They are a good young team.  Just passed the quarter mark of the 2013-2014 season both teams are sitting near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, separated by just one point. Not only are valuable points on the line with this game but the first meeting always means setting the tone for the season series. Chara will be most certainly be booed while Pacioretty will be gunning for goals.

Like a movie that brings you to tears or a book you can’t put down, the emotions are so well defined in this rivalry that everyone from the players to the fans, feel it.  “It’s special,” said Bruins forward Shawn Thornton. “If you can’t get up for the Montreal Canadiens, you’re probably in the wrong business. These are always fun games, especially playing in that barn.”

On Thursday night, my phone will be off and my lights dimmed.  I will sit nervously waiting for puck drop, a short breath held tight in my chest.  I might hate the Bruins but I cherish the rivalry because the winners change.  Last season the Bruins won the series.  The year before that the Habs did and so on into history.  A new edition of the Bruins-Habs history is about to get underway.  May my team win.