By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
On January 1st, 2019, the Boston Bruins will meet the Chicago Blackhawks at Notre Dame Stadium in Indiana, United States in the 2019 Bridgestone Winter Classic. The outdoor game has become synonymous with the new year since it’s origination back in 2008 when the Buffalo Sabres faced the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For Boston, it will not be the first time they have participated in the Winter Classic. In 2010, Boston played their first Classic against the Philadelphia Flyers. The 38,112 in attendance at Fenway Field – home of the Boston Red Sox – witnessed Marco Sturm score the game-winning goal 1:57 into the overtime session to give Boston the 2-1 victory.
For six seasons after that game, the hockey world would not see the Bruins in the Winter Classic. In 2016, the Bruins faced long-time rivals, the Montreal Canadiens at the Gilette Stadium – home of the New England Patriots – in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Just over 67,000 fans filled the seats for the game, the fourth-highest attendance rate at the time (3rd – 68,111 – 2011 WC, 2nd – 71,217 – 2008 WC, 1st – 105,491 – 2014 WC).
In addition to the love that the Winter Classic already gets because of the uniqueness of all the other regular season games, the 2016 Winter Classic felt different, even in comparison to the other outdoor contests. Of course, the Bruins/Canadiens rivalry is easily the greatest rivalry in hockey and quite possibly in all sports, yet there is an argument on both sides of the coin for that one. The reality is that if the Classic already had a huge attraction to it, when the most heated rivalry takes centre stage, it is bound to be more of the nail-biting type of hockey game.
Unless you were not such a hockey fan in 2016 as you are now, the Bruins lost by a devastating score of 5-1. Heading into the 2019 Classic, that loss in 2016 is the largest margin of a Winter Classic, ahead of the 4-1 win for the St. Louis Blues over the Blackhawks in 2017. All the factors – the game against Montreal, only one goal scored, allowed five goals, on home ice – added together to lead to this year – a chance for redemption.
High Stakes – High Disappointment
In the few months leading up to the 2016 Winter Classic, the Atlantic Division race was very close. On the day of their January 1st game, the Canadiens were one point ahead of the Bruins in the standings, but the B’s had three games in hand. Both teams wanted any and every point to gain on the Florida Panthers – who sat in the top spot in the division, a position they would hold until the end of the 2015-2016 season.
More specifically, both teams were in the middle of some poor stretches of hockey and needed to use the Winter Classic as a new milestone to change the tides and make the push to a playoff spot. Boston had lost three of its last four games before Jan. 1st, while Montreal lost seven of their last eight. The Canadiens also went 3-11 in December of 2015 after starting the season with a 9-0-0 record.
While the special additions to the Winter Classic made the game feel more like a regular season contest, it was in fact, a very important regular season game. Oddly enough, even though the Canadiens obliterated the Bruins, the Bruins still finished atop the Habs in the final standings, but both teams failed to make the postseason.
In the upcoming game against Chicago on the first day of 2019, the Bruins will have an opportunity to comeback and prove that they can come out victorious in important, high-stake games. Losing to Montreal always sucks, but the Original Six rivalry with the Blackhawks goes quite far back as well. The Greatest Bruin of All-Time, Bobby Orr, once played for the Hawks. But even more recently have the Hawks and Bruins had an intense meeting – the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals.
’13 Finals – So, So Close
Moving aside from the Bruins vs Canadiens Winter Classic for a brief time, (don’t worry, we will be back with more regarding this because there is a lot more redemption to be had), the Bruins and the Hawks at one point in the 2010’s were the two best teams in the National Hockey League. The Blackhawks had won the Stanley Cup for the first time in forty-nine years during the 2010 Playoffs, followed by Boston, who ended their 39-year Cup drought in 2011.
Somehow, in the 2011-2012 postseason, both franchises were untimely eliminated in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, (Boston to Washington in 7 games; Chicago to then-Phoenix in 6 games). The very next season, however, the two teams quickly regained their dominance with strong regular season performances. Chicago won the President’s Trophy in the lockout season, while Boston finished fifteen points behind – fifth in the league.
In the 2013 Playoffs, Boston beat Toronto in seven games, the Rangers in five games, and swept the Penguins in the Conference Finals to make it back to the Finals for the second time in three seasons. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, eliminated Minnesota in five games, Detroit in seven games, and the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Los Angeles Kings in five games.
The two closely-matched teams started off their Stanley Cup Finals with a triple-overtime game in Game One, where forward Andrew Shaw scored the game-winning goal for the Blackhawks. Off of the hands of Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly, the Bruins rebounded in Game Two, winning 2-1 in an overtime session of their own.
On June 17th, 2013, the series shifted to Boston, Massachusetts for Game Three. Tuukka Rask made twenty-eight saves and the Bruins had goals from Paille and Bergeron to win by a score of 2-0. Unfortunately, that would be the last time the Bruins could walk away with a win in the series, as the Hawks would win three straight, including the Game Six collapse that remains in the heads of Bruins fans.
For the first time, the Bruins have a small chance at redeeming that loss. The 2019 Winter Classic is the first large event since the Stanley Cup Finals against the Blackhawks. Will a WC victory over the Illinois franchise completely erase the loss in the final series of the 2013 Playoffs, the Finals where the Bruins could have won two Cups in three years? Of course not. However, it’ll be a great accomplishment for the team wearing Black n Gold.
On a Personal Level – Brad Marchand
As many remember, Brad Marchand was not the best rule-abiding player in 2015-16, not that he is much better today, but he has most definitely improved over the course of the last three years or so. In December of 2015, Marchand received a three-game suspension for clipping Ottawa Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki. The three games including the Winter Classic against the Canadiens.
Marchand’s suspension was a huge detriment to the Bruins for the January 1st game. Not only did it prevent Marchand from playing in his first NHL Winter Classic, but it also hurt the offensive core of the Bruins ahead of the game. With David Pastrnak at the 2016 World Junior Championships with the Czech Republic and David Krejci out with an injury, Boston relied fully on Patrice Bergeron to backbone the scoring. Here were the lines prior to puck drop in the ’16 Classic vs the Habs.
Eriksson – Bergeron – Griffith
Beleskey – Spooner – Connolly
Vatrano – Ferraro – Khokhlachev
Rinaldo – Talbot – Hayes
(Fun side note, aside from Bergeron, not a single forward on this lineup is on the Bruins in the 2018-19 season).
Just three seasons later, it is evident how weak the offensive core was for the Bruins in that game and losing Marchand made it even worse. As the day gets closer and Marchand keeps his suspension-free season intact, *knocks on wood*, he can possibly allow himself to be forgiven by the Bruins fanbase for that late-December 2016 low hit on Borowiecki.
It may also be worth noting that the 2019 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic could be redemption for goaltender Tuukka Rask following his .833 save-percentage (25 saves on 30 shots) in the loss to Montreal, however, with the success of Jaroslav Halak over the course of the season, there is a chance that Cassidy decides to start Halak in between the posts. (It is fair to note that Rask has talked about his WC mask, while Halak does not have one to my knowledge.)
Is there any other aspect of the upcoming Winter Classic that could act as redemption for the Boston Bruins? Have I covered everything? Let me know on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj