The storied Bruins-Canadiens rivalry is nearing its 10th decade.
The Canadiens, the winningest franchise in National Hockey League history, recently completed their 110th season. The Bruins, the oldest professional hockey franchise in the U.S., will celebrate its centennial season during the 2023-24 campaign.
Yet, in the last few years, the two teams rarely put forth historic moments when they match up.
Sure, there have been some notable events in recent Bruins-Canadiens showdowns, including Claude Julien’s return to Boston two years ago. But the two teams haven’t been neck-and-neck in a race for a division title since the lockout-shortened 2013 season. And they haven’t met in the playoffs since 2014 when the Habs upset the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins in seven games.
So what’s caused the downturn? For starters, some faces of the heated rivalry changed addresses over the last decade.
P.K. Subban, once the biggest villain in Boston, is now in New Jersey after a three-year stint in Nashville. Ex-Habs captain Max Pacioretty now resides in Las Vegas where he’s a leading candidate for comeback player of the year.
Milan Lucic went from Boston to L.A. before arriving on the scene for The Battle of Alberta for stints with Edmonton and Calgary. Others, like Shawn Thornton and Andrew Ference, made respective stops in South Florida and Edmonton before calling it a career.
Yes, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Carey Price remain with their respective clubs. And both teams inserted some youth into the rivalry, highlighted by the likes of David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Max Domi, and Nick Suzuki.
The recent turnover from Subban, Lucic, Ference, Thornton, Pacioretty, and even Dale Weise coincided with the recent dip in hostilities for the past handful of years. Perhaps the game trending toward more of a skill-based brand and less of a rock em, sock em style has something to do with that as well.
But all it takes is one moment to rekindle the bitterness between the two squads.
That newfound spark could come when the two Original Six squads meet for their 750th all-time matchup Wednesday night at TD Garden.
The two teams are 19 points apart in the standings, yet both have something to play for. The Canadiens, upon Ilya Kovalchuk’s arrival, sit five points behind the Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic. The league-leading Bruins, meanwhile, have a mere three-point cushion over the Capitals and the red-hot Lightning.
One team is desperate to remain in postseason contention during this mid-February matchup. The other wants to create separation in a tightly-contested race for home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
“They’re fighting for a playoff spot, so the desperation factor will be there,” Jake DeBrusk said a day before embarking on his 11th career game against the Canadiens. “There’s always an emotional side of things when it’s Montreal vs. Boston, especially in Boston. I’m looking forward to it and I think this guy is too.”
DeBrusk pointed to Brandon Carlo next to his stall in that last statement. The two came forth in a rare joint scrum interview with the media inside the Warrior Ice Arena dressing room after Tuesday’s practice.
Carlo, of course, echoed DeBrusk’s sentiment about the upcoming Boston-Montreal showdown.
“At this point of the season, you kind of recognize the playoff picture and it becomes important each and every game,” the Colorado Springs-born defenseman said leading up to his 15th career matchup with the Habs. “For us, we want to continue to build our game and be prepared for that next step and they’re doing the same thing.”
For all the outside noise about the recent civility of this rivalry, you don’t need to tell the two teams what’s at stake whenever they prep for a showdown with one another. And even this year, the Bruins and Habs didn’t hesitate engaging in close matchups and post-whistle scrums, especially in the last meeting back on Dec. 1.
The Bruins and Canadiens — to the surprise of many — don't seem to like each other. pic.twitter.com/VYtNpHsG8x
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) December 2, 2019
“We’re facing a team that it doesn’t take much for us to get ready for,” Patrice Bergeron said a day before facing the Habs for the 71st time in his illustrious career. “It’s always fun to play against Montreal. They’re tough games, but they’re also fun for fans and everybody.”
Come Wednesday, the Causeway St. faithful will fill the renovated TD Garden to capacity (17,580) for the first Bruins-Canadiens matchup of the new decade. They may not witness moments like Nathan Horton’s playoff overtime winners or Tim Thomas dropping the gloves with Price, but they sure hope to see more hostilities and less civility between the two sides.
And maybe, just maybe, they’ll fill the building again for more Boston-Montreal showdowns this spring.