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  • The Bruins-Canadiens rivalry searches for another spark

    Tim Rosenthal November 11, 2023

    MONTREAL — Over the last century, the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens provided the hockey world with historical moments.

    Among the plethora of highlights from the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry: the Maurice Richard riots in 1955; Willie O’Ree’s NHL debut in 1958; Ken Dryden’s sensational performance in 1971; too many men in Game 7 in the old Montreal Forum in 1979; the Bruins exorcising the demons with their first playoff series win over Montreal in 1988; Nathan Horton’s overtime heroics in 2011.

    Jim Montgomery grew up in Montreal, witnessing the legendary moments of hockey’s greatest rivalry. The second-year Boston bench boss admitted his coaching inspiration with the assembled media following Boston’s optional skate at the Bell Centre on Saturday.

    Indeed, Montgomery looked up to a coaching dean in Scotty Bowman during his Habs tenure in the 70’s — and not the colorful and outspoken Don Cherry.

    “I pictured myself being Scotty Bowman,” Montgomery joked. “Not Grapes.”

    Nearly five decades later, Montgomery transitioned from Habs fandom to Bruins coach. He guided the Bruins to a four-game sweep of the Canadiens amid Boston’s record-breaking regular season in 2022-23.

    Montgomery entered his first Bruins-Habs game during a relatively civil period of the rivalry. The two teams haven’t met in the playoffs since 2014 — the first year of the current divisional playoff format — when the likes of P.K. Subban, Carey Price and Max Pacioretty overcame a 3-2 second-round deficit to down Boston in seven games.

    There wasn’t any shortage of tensions in the years following. The two teams met in the 2016 Winter Classic with the Habs topping the Bruins in a blowout at Gillette Stadium. Then there was Claude Julien returning to Montreal just days after GM Don Sweeney relieved him of his coaching duties on the same day the Patriots paraded through Boston celebrating their fifth Super Bowl triumph.

    Both teams entered transitional periods over the last decade. And both appeared in a Stanley Cup Final, with the Bruins coming up one game short in 2019 against the Blues and the Canadiens falling to the Lightning during their surprise run in the 2021 Covid-shortened season.

    With that transition comes new faces. Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Subban have all embarked on their post-hockey careers. A knee injury to Price derailed his career just 30 months after backstopping the Habs to an improbable run to the Cup Final.

    Brad Marchand remains one of the few holdovers from the last postseason meeting. He’ll take his spot in Boston’s top-six as the transitional phase of the rivalry continues, with fresher faces like Montgomery, Matthew Poitras, Mason Lohrei, Cole Caufield, 2022 top overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky and second-year Montreal bench boss Martin St. Louis leading the way.

    “That usually starts with playoff hockey, especially when you play a team like Montreal, and it usually carries over into the next season. We haven’t quite had that same battle the last few years, but they’re always a very competitive team and the energy always seems to be higher when we play each other,” Boston’s captain said.

    “We’re expecting a really tough game out there tonight. They have a lot of young, exciting talent coming up in the organization. Talent is always on display, and I’m sure it will be again tonight. We have our work cut out for us.”

    Perhaps an injection of youth and a returning Charlie McAvoy will light another spark into the rivalry. Yet, given the sparse meetings during the 82-game slate, the Bruins and Habs rivalry may need that long-awaited playoff meeting sooner rather than later.

    “It definitely lessens the rivalry. When you play a team, six, seven, eight times, there’s definitely bad blood that spills over between games. When you play a team only three or four [games]…those are usually spread out over the course of the year,” Marchand said. “The rivalry is definitely less than what it was in the past. So, I know that’s part of the sell of the game with the rivalries, but that’s just the way with the schedule. They’re not what they used to be.”

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    Tim Rosenthal

    Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.


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