BOSTON – There has been plenty of recent chatter about the juice being close to nonexistent in the storied Boston Bruins/Montreal Canadiens rivalry in recent years.
It’s largely true, of course, with some of it due to the current downtrodden cycle of the Habs franchise as Canadiens President Jeff Gorton and GM Kent Hughes attempt to pull the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge out of their doldrums. Some of it is also explained by the lack of regular season meetings between the two Atlantic Division rivals in recent years as Thursday night’s Boston Bruins 4-2 win over the Canadiens at TD Garden marked the first game between the two franchises in Boston this season.
For that to be happening in late March is mind-blowing stuff from the NHL schedule-makers when as recently as 10 or 15 years ago the two ancient rivals were seeing each other seven or eight times during the regular season.
It’s nigh impossible to keep a rivalry going when two teams barely play each other and don’t ever face each other in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and that’s where it’s stood between Boston and Montreal over the last decade. Prior to Thursday night’s game, Montgomery lamented that the two teams will only meet a total of three times this season and won’t see each other in the postseason where true rivalries are born.
“Montreal and the Bruins seemed to play each other every year in the playoffs. The whole decade of the 1970’s – the Flyers interrupted it for a couple of years – and then in the 1980’s it was the Adams Division back then and they would each meet Buffalo and Quebec and then each meet up in the second round,” said Montgomery. “I wish we played that team more, particularly because it’ the Black and Gold against the Red, White and Blue. It’s the tradition of the game, for me.”
But the Bruins and Canadiens actually brought on some of that good, old-fashioned hate on Thursday in a development that probably couldn’t have been predicted between a Cup favorite running away with the league and a Montreal team once again looking at a lottery pick in the draft. It started with Rem Pitlick taking a run at Patrice Bergeron without the puck and catching him up high in a dangerous hit that Brad Marchand immediately responded to by tackling the Habs center in the crease and pummeling him for good measure.
“You don’t hit our captain late,” said Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery. “That was a three-second late hit. I loved the fact that Marchand made the guy pay a price for doing it.”
Montgomery, a Montreal native that loved the Habs in the 1970s and 1980s, wasn’t going to confuse it with a Bruins/Habs rivalry game from its heyday, but the bad blood continued when AJ Greer was thrown out of the game later in the first period for crosschecking Mike Hoffman in the face.
A five-minute major and game misconduct certainly feels like old time hockey.
“Two Original Six teams…obviously, anytime Bergy gets hit like that we’re going to react,” said Boston Bruins left winger Jake DeBrusk. “I actually didn’t see what happened, but you could just see the crowd go nuts, so I knew something was going on. There were a couple other scrums. Whenever these two teams match up, we always play each other hard.”
Well, it hasn’t been all that hard in recent seasons, but thankfully Thursday night kind of felt that way in a throwback period with a total of 31 penalty minutes handed out in the opening 20 minutes of the game. There were skirmishes after that, including Garnet Hathaway chasing after Pitlick and challenging him for his earlier hit on Boston’s beloved captain, and Charlie McAvoy and Brad Marchand pulling some tag team action on Montreal defender Jake Evans.
Jake Evans gets a large dose of Charlie McAvoy and a small dose of Brad Marchand: pic.twitter.com/U3CPu1MuRt
— Evan Marinofsky (@EvanMarinofsky) March 24, 2023
There was also Boston locking things down in the third period on a David Krejci goal after a Connor Clifton point shot created a golden scoring chance for the Czech center. But it all started with Brad Marchand standing up for his longtime teammate and doing it without a single hesitation when somebody took a liberty.
Nobody treats Patrice Bergeron this way in his own house pic.twitter.com/tuKegvUxSu
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) March 23, 2023
That’s the sign of a Boston Bruins team that’s bound tightly together as a unit right now with one singular goal in mind, and it’s also a harbinger that things might start getting a little more testy between the B’s and Habs during their final meeting of the regular season next month in Montreal just head of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Habs had some willing individuals like Brendan Gallagher and Michael Pezzetta, and Joel Edmundson, and that’s where the trouble can get started for them. Certainly veterans like Bergeron and Marchand may not even be playing in that final regular season game on April 13, and if so they managed to help stir up a little of that old-time hockey rivalry on Thursday night.
“What I would point out is [Marchand] sticking up for Bergy,” said David Pastrnak, when asked about the extra-curriculars from the victory over Montreal. “It’s obviously outstanding, and that’s been kind of our motto in the team. It’s great to see when a guy like Marchy sticks up for our captain and definitely gets everybody going on the bench.”
Beyond that it’s great to see the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens genuinely disliking each other again and that spilling over to entertaining hockey on the ice. Clearly the B’s/Habs rivalry isn’t anywhere close to what it’s been in the past, but maybe, just maybe, it’s beginning to come back as Montreal begins to build back up into something.
It can be nothing but good for the game if the Bruins/Canadiens rivalry is restored in a league that’s at its best when hockey teams really loathe each other on the ice.