Bruins-Canadiens destined for playoff showdown

Bruins-Canadiens destined for playoff showdown
March 4, 2013, 12:00 pm
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Back in Week 3 of this most recent NFL season, the Patriots and Ravens faced off in a vicious, highly volatile and controversial affair. All things considered (and not counting Week 16’s showdown with Chad Henne's Jaguars), that night in Baltimore was probably New England’s most intense regular season game of the year.
 
The hatred between the Patriots and Ravens was visible on your TV screen. And I mean that literally. You could actually see tiny particles of hate shooting off their helmets and out of their nostrils. There was so much history. So much built-up and built-in animosity. To make matters worse (or maybe better?) the replacement referees had no control of the game. It was total chaos.
 
In the end, Baltimore won 31-30 on a last second Justin Tucker field goal (which probably shouldn’t have counted), and as both teams ran off the field, I remember thinking: “This isn’t over. They’ll see each other again.”
 
After last night's Bruins' game, I thought the exact same thing.
 
In this case, it’s a little different because Bruins/Canadiens isn’t a one-time regular season event. In fact, we’re only halfway through the fire this year, with Montreal back in town on March 27, and the Bruins heading up to Canada on April 6.
 
By the time they skate off the ice that final time, who knows where this thing will be? Half the Bruins' roster might find themselves locked in a Montreal prison.
 
Still, this year’s rivalry feels bigger than the regular season. Sure, it’s just a hunch. And sure, it’s a hunch from a guy who knows as much about hockey as he does the inner workings of the flux capacitor. But as with the Ravens and Patriots, this edition of the Bruins/Canadiens rivalry seems destined for more. I just can’t shake the feeling that when it’s all said and done, we’ll look back at this four-game regular season set as nothing more than an extended playoff preview.
 
This hunch might also come from a place of desperation. After all, Boston needs Bruins/Canadiens right now. It’s been far too long since one of the city’s best and most classic rivalries lived up to the hype.
 
The Red Sox and Yankees haven’t met in the playoffs since 2004, and the rivalry in general has suffered along with the Sox. At this point, it’s more fun to crack jokes about how long the games are than it is to actually watch them.
 
The Pats have swept the Jets in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2006, and haven’t lost to the Green since the 2011 playoff upset. How can the Jets possibly still care about the Pats while there’s so much dysfunction in their own locker room? On the other hand, New England can still get a kick out of the Jets mess — I mean, their coach has a sexy arm tattoo of his wife wearing his quarterback’s jersey; and his quarterback is one of the worst in the league. But the rivalry isn’t the same without respect; without having at least a little fear in the opponent. And that doesn’t exist right now. The Jets are a joke.
 
Moving on, it’s been almost three years since the Lakers and Celtics met in the Finals, and this season both teams are destined for a bottom seed in the playoffs. When the Lakers beat the Celtics in LA last month, Boston barely cared; everyone was too consumed with the possibility that the whole team was about to get traded.
 
Meanwhile, Bruins/Canadiens took a quick siesta last season, as the B’s dealt with Tim Thomas and the Canadiens set up shop in the Eastern Conference basement, but this year —
 
It’s back.
 
We’re only 20 games into this abbreviated regular season, but Boston and Montreal sit atop the Eastern Conference. I know it’s early, but neither squad appears at risk of dropping out of the race. I know it’s early, but it’s clear that they’re two of the best teams in the East. I know it’s early, but then again, IT’S EARLY. Like I said before, with all the hatred and animosity these two teams have built up, there’s no telling where this relationship will be after two more regular season showdowns. Or whether this city or the entire continent is prepared for what will transpire when the Bruins and Canadiens slap on the skates for what seems like an almost inevitable playoff battle.
 
Let’s just hope it turns out better than Patriots/Ravens.
 
Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter @rich_levine.