BOSTON – Hate will be the order of the day when things finally commence between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens Thursday night for Game 1 of their playoff series. Unlike Bruins and Red Wings teams that were essentially perfect strangers when they readied for their playoff series two weeks ago, the Bruins and Habs know each other all too well.
That familiarity breeds contempt, hate, anger and all manner of things that Yoda always warned his Jedi apprentices about along the way. This won’t be a walk on the dark side for either Boston or Montreal, of course, but instead should be a walk on the wild side for each of the bitter rivals.
“Both teams know what this series can bring, and know what to expect heading into this type of rivalry of what this represents,” said Milan Lucic. “I know we’re prepared for it, and we’re ready for a tougher kind of challenge. We know they’re going to bring their best, and we know what they’re able to do when they’re playing their best.
They were able to beat a good team in Tampa in the first round, and beat them in four straight games. No other team in the playoffs was able to do that. We know that they’re ready to go and anxious to play, and so are we.”
Does Lucic hate the Canadiens?
“Yeah, I do,” said Lucic. “I’m sure if you asked them about us you’d get the same answer. Being here for seven years and being a part of this organization, you just learn to naturally hate the Montreal Canadiens. The battles that we’ve had the last couple of years have made us hate him, and this being the first time we’re meeting them beyond the first round will even take it up a level.”
That hate and burning animosity is exactly the kind of emotion that makes Stanley Cup playoff hockey so compelling to the discerning sports fan, and is what separates Bruins/Habs from other playoff series around the league.
It will be the 34th playoff meeting between the two Original Six teams all-time, the most of any two pro franchises in the four major pro sports and another chapter in the NHL’s best rivalry. Instead of the normal, perfunctory clichés about respecting their opponent and throwing verbal bouquets toward Montreal’s players, the Bruins were more than happy to just jump into a best-of-seven playoff series that will get nasty in quick fashion.
It won’t take long for Milan Lucic and Alexei Emelin to have a problem with each other, or for P.K. Subban and Brad Marchand to outdo each other in the all-important agitation category.
“We’re not going to treat him any differently, and when we get a chance to hit him we’re going to hit him. We just can’t get sucked into his game, and that’s what he does; try to get things physical without getting sucked into what he wants to do,” said Marchand, of Subban. “He likes to come in after whistles, and likes to grab guys, or hit guys.
“You just need to skate away, and you hope the refs are keeping a close eye on things.”
Even the normally stoic, reserved David Krejci has no qualms about railing against the everyday stick-work he’ll see with countryman Tomas Plekanec shadowing him for the balance of the series. That’s not even counting the expected battles between Zdeno Chara and a Montreal forward line containing both Thomas Vanek and Max Pacioretty with size, strength and skill at the wings.
These are matchups and head-to-head showdowns that are the game within the game whenever Boston and Montreal get together for NHL hockey, and that goes double time when it’s actually the playoffs. It will be the fourth time that Claude Julien’s Bruins take on the Canadiens in the seven years he’s been coaching the Black and Gold, and the first where the B’s and Habs are girding for a second round matchup.
Don’t expect anybody in a Bruins uniform to underplay the heated rivalry, particularly where the Bruins have dropped six of the last seven games to the Canadiens over the last two seasons.
“I hated Boston when I was in Montreal, and now I hate Montreal because I’m in Boston,” said Claude Julien. “It’s a good rivalry. I think it always has been a good rivalry. It is a lot of fun, and I think the players get up for these games.
“As a coach, you don’t have to do much of a pep talk when it comes to playing each other. It’s more about controlled emotions, making sure the rivalry is what it is but that you're game still remains a game that is under control. I think that is going to be the big challenge for both teams in this series here.”
In recent years, the Bruins have only lost playoff series to Montreal in 2007-08 when Boston was the lowly eight seed before getting taken out by the No. 1 overall seed in seven games. The city of Montreal burned police cruisers and rioted throughout the downtown to celebrate a No. 1 seed beating a No. 8 seed in seven games, and that really put a highlight on the kind of lunatic fringe that’s always lurking in the city full of Quebecois.
But that’s really a staple of the rivalry: the polar opposite franchises in Boston and Montreal. The Bruins are a big, strong, experienced team that plays diligently and intelligently in all situations, relies on brute force, depth and work ethic to wear down opponents and plays disciplined, structured defense behind a Vezina Trophy finalist in Tuukka Rask.
The Canadiens are a small, sleek, fast hockey club full of Smurf forwards that will battle to their very demise, utilize stronger net players like Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek in times of need, and hope their experienced, deep group of defenseman that can withstand the Bruins. The Bruins will hit like a sledgehammer to make their points on the frozen sheet while on home ice, and the Canadiens will be looking to make offensive plays they could match sweet music too.
The Bruins know they’re using might and force to push pucks past Carey Price while the Montreal goaltender warms into an enviable shutdown position, and the Canadiens believe their playmaking belongs in the record books as a higher art form.
The Bruins are Metallica, and the Canadiens are Enya all the way.
The Bruins and the Canadiens are true opposites – one is a heavy duty playoff-style team that’s won in the past three years, and the other is a Canadiens finesse team that’s got speed and skill enough to exploit a Boston hockey club that’s struggled against them over the last few years.
With that as the backdrop it’s time to cut the hyperbole, hype and emotional outbursts leading to another great series between the B’s and the Habs, and the Bruins wouldn’t want it any other way.