Canadiens & Bruins: Who's Really Intimidated?
We're mere hours away from, once again, the most anticipated game of the season (read Jason Pietroniro's preview here). Tensions in both Montreal and Boston are at an all-time high. You can't turn on a sports radio show that isn't talking about the sixth and final meeting between the Canadiens and Bruins, or the Pacioretty-Chara incident or even the "Beantown Beatdown" from the month before.
Have we reached the peak of the 90 year rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins?
I'm obviously in no place to speak of the bitter match-ups between these two teams from, say, the 70s, but as a long time sports fan and a passionate hockey fan, I can say with relative certainty that I've never seen anything like what the Canadiens and Bruins have gone through against each other in the past decade. There have been four playoff-series between the two teams, with the Canadiens taking three of them, twice in game sevens, and one sweep by the Bruins two years ago. There have been countless memorable moments from regular season games, some uglier than others, as we witnessed two weeks ago, and in the days leading up to tonight's match.
Consider all of this, and the ridiculous fact that these two teams have managed to find a way to play each other in the playoffs four times in the first round in a single decade, in a 30 team league with a 16 team playoff format. Consider the mounting tension between the players, as well as the fans. Consider that with only a handful of games left in the regular season, the Bruins sit in third place, the Canadiens in sixth, with most pundits speculating whether the Canadiens will swap spots with the Bruins by the time it is all said and done. I think it's all but inevitable that we will once again see the Canadiens and Bruins square off in the playoffs.
And really, just like in tonight's game, there's absolutely no telling what could happen in those four to seven games. The bloodlust of one team, versus the hockey dominance of the other have made each game more and more unpredictable.
As a fan, I'm not sure what to think about the prospect of facing the Bruins again. As a blogger and the owner of this site, I'm obviously much more excited, as I can assure you we'll have plenty to talk about, as we do today, thanks to some bonehead remarks from Bruins forward (and former Hab) Mark Recchi.
Apparently when you move to Boston, your brain shrinks a few sizes. Recchi went on a Boston radio show, and was goated by the host into basically saying he thought the Canadiens embellished the Pacioretty injury in order to get Zdeno Chara suspended. Now, I'm not a medical expert, nor do I really want to resort to such childishness, but I think we can all agree that it's a pretty ridiculous statement to make, considering Pacioretty was out cold on the ice and I'm pretty sure that's an automatic concussion diagnosis. Only a few days later where doctors able to see that he had little to no concussion symptoms, and by then, the league had already made its decision.
Moreover, Recchi should look around him before opening his mouth, and notice which player, who also had a "severe" concussion only to return for last year's playoffs, is currently missing from their line-up and done for the season thanks to a mis-diagnosed concussion. It's not as simple as "he has a concussion" or "he doesn't". And even if Recchi is right - and he isn't, he's just basing his accusations on the fact that Pacioretty saw a movie and tweeted about it a week after the hit - a 20+ year veteran like he is should know better than to go on radio shows and stir the shitpot like he did yesterday.
You don't have to look that far to see how irresponsible and foolish the whole situation is. Just read this post by Pat Hickey in the Gazette. Not just Recchi, but the radio host who tricked him into making his foolish statements. Thankfully, the Bruins PR department realized that there really wasn't any good coming out of any of their players mouths in interviews, and decided to pull the plug on interviews in the hours leading up to the game, which is probably best for everyone involved.
Still, the damage has been long done, and I'm not talking about Recchi's ridiculous remarks or Lucic flapping his gums every chance he gets. The damage was done two weeks ago at the Bell Centre, a month before that in Boston, and a month before that, even, in another Canadiens win over the Bruins. These two teams are destined to hate each other no matter how anyone tries to spin past events.
Gary Bettman pulled Pierre Gauthier and Peter Chiarelli aside at the General Managers' meetings earlier this month, but there's only so much you can do to stop the teams from playing the only way they know how. Pierre McGuire put it best on Montreal radio last night. The Canadiens have always been the "Flying Frenchmen", and Boston has always been the "Big Bad Bruins". No amount of lobbying or calming actions will ever be enough to change that. It's embedded in the brain of any player, any manager, any coach that ever steps foot into either organization. If you're in Montreal, it's about speed, and it's about finesse and responsibility on the ice. If you're a Bruin, it's about beating your opponent into submission, about playing big and tough. But unfortunately for them, the Canadiens' strategy seems to work better in this case, and these two styles of play, these two mentalities are never going to be able to coexist. That has to be why the Habs and Bruins are always at each others throats.
Regardless of what's been said, and what's been done, you gotta wonder who's really afraid of who here. The Canadiens have been pushed around by a legitimately bigger team in the Bruins, but they never backed down. They've also beaten the Bruins in 9 of the last 11 meetings between the two clubs, proving that their speed, their finesse, is much more effective then the tough, physical game of the Bruins. It's clear that the Habs are in their heads, and it's clear that the Bruins are starting to question whether they can beat the Canadiens in an actual game of hockey.
In February's "Beatdown", the Bruins were leading by two goals when all the fights broke out. But the Canadiens had already come back from previous deficits in the game, and you could just feel that no matter how many goals the Bruins scored, the Canadiens would have a shot at coming back. And that's when things got out of hand. The next month in Montreal, the score was 4-0 and the game was long over when Chara decided to take Pacioretty's head off, and Lucic and friends decided to go after the Habs a little while later in the third. Clearly, frustration is setting in for the Bruins. Because home ice advantage doesn't matter. The fact that's only been two years since the Bruins swept the Habs in the playoffs doesn't matter. They know that the Canadiens have their number, and it's haunting them.
In tonight's game, anything can happen. The Bruins could decide to go after the Habs after the first puck drop, or they could do nothing. The Canadiens could score five goals on Tim Thomas, or they could recede into a shell and do nothing. It could turn into another Boston Beatdown, or it could be a Montreal Massacre if the Canadiens dominate. Then again, it could be the most boring game of the season. But the result and the actions of the players on both sides during this game will be very telling about what to expect if these teams do in fact face off again in just a few weeks time.
I won't even try to predict what will happen, or what's going through the heads of the players on each side as you read this. I'm not even sure what I WANT to happen, frankly. But what we do know is that appearances, as well as the size of a hockey player, well, that can be deceiving.
Discuss the game, and the rivalry, in the comments below, and once again, don't forget to read Jason Pietroniro's preview.