By Joe Chrzanowski | Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19
If you have been a Bruins fan for more than 10 years, you should have a healthy, hotter than the heat of a thousand suns, passionate hatred for the Montreal Canadiens. Good vs. Evil…Night vs. Day…Heat Miser vs. Cold Miser…none of those have anything on Boston vs. Montreal. As a boy, I went to a B’s vs. Habs playoff game in the late ’70s and witnessed a drunken Montreal fan on crutches “mouthing off” to a group of Boston fans and subsequently being beaten with his own crutches until police intervened. That’s how bad it was it was between the two fanbases at the time. Let’s take a quick look at this historic rivalry and decide if they are still the B’s most hated foes today.
Being two of the NHL’s Original Six franchises means that the Bruins and Canadiens have been facing off for a long, long time. They first met in December of 1924, with Montreal defeating Boston 4-3. This first game was sort of emblematic of the rivalry as a whole for many years, with the Bruins coming close, but ultimately losing to their rivals from North of the Border. Since that time, the two teams have played each more times (regular season and playoffs combined) than any other two teams in NHL history. The series stands at 469–345–103–10 in favor of Montreal, who has dominated at times. They have also met 34 times in the postseason, with the Canadians winning 18 straight series from 1946-1987.
I started following the Bruins in 1972, and while I was just a youngster, there was not a team I despised more than Les Habitants. If the earth had opened up and swallowed Dryden, Lafleur, and Robinson, I probably would have been the happiest six-year-old on the planet. As I was starting my decades-long fandom with the Bruins, they actually took a brief hiatus from the rivalry with the Canadiens, meeting them only once in the playoffs from 1970-71 (the Dryden series) through 1975. It would not last very long, but for that period, Montreal was on the back burner.
During those years, the B’s had a pretty healthy rivalry with the Rangers that briefly eclipsed the one with Montreal. Boston met New York in 1970 and 1972, defeating them on the way to two Stanley Cups. New York eliminated Boston in 1973. After that, it was the Flyers for a few seasons. Philadelphia and Bernie Parent (a former Bruin) beat Boston in the Stanley Cup Final in 1974 in a grueling six-game series and also eliminated them in 1976. The Bruins had the upper hand in 1977 and 1978, besting the Flyers in the semi-finals both of those seasons. Not to worry though, Montreal was already marching back to the forefront of Bruin’s fan’s hit-lists.
From 1977-1979 the teams met in three straight postseasons, with the Habs winning all three series, two in the Finals. As an avid 11-13-year-old B’s fan and hockey player during that stretch was particularly hard on me, with some tears being shed. I had the pleasure and good luck to attend Game Four’s in both 78 and 79, both 4-3 OT wins for the Bruins. I have not experienced that kind of atmosphere at a hockey game since, and have attended many. My absolute joy both years was obviously short-lived. Despite the Canadien’s dominance an amazing stat for that era…from 1965-1979 Boston (2-3) and Montreal (10-1) took up 16 of the possible 30 spots in the Finals during those 15 years.
The 1980s were not much kinder to Boston, as they lost five of the six series in that decade when the teams faced off (1984, 85, 86, 87, 89). The lone exception was 1988 when a Bruins team led by Cam Neely and Ray Bourque defeated the Canadiens in five games in the Adams Division Final. This series victory broke a 44 year and 18 series stretch of Montreal victories. The B’s would go on to defeat New Jersey and lose to the juggernaut that was Edmonton in the Cup Finals.
The 1990s would bring a much-needed change to the rivalry from the Bruins perspective, with Boston taking all four series played that decade. From 2000-2014, the two Eastern Conference foes faced each other another six times, with Montreal holding a 4-2 series edge. At that point, the rivalry appeared to be alive and well, despite the fact that the NHL changed the season format between division teams. At one time, the two teams could have as many as nine meetings in the regular season alone, and it was down to four or five.
The one-time automatic opponents have not faced each other in the playoffs since the 2013-14 season. While the regular-season matchups are still intense, it lacks something without adding the intensity of postseason games to the mix. In my opinion, the two things most directly responsible for the slippage of this once-great rivalry is the NHL’s lack of emphasis on division games and Montreal’s lack of competitiveness in recent years. The Bruins are headed to their fourth straight playoffs, while the Canadiens have missed “the chase” two of the last four seasons, and are only going this season because of the expanded 24-team playoff format. While I am positive that this rivalry is not dead, it certainly is on life-support at this juncture.
I don’t think the Bruins and Lightning like each other very much pic.twitter.com/VenaHSZbuz— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) March 8, 2020
If not Montreal, which NHL team now makes the blood of Bruins fans boil? Pittsburgh? I guess you could make a case for the Pens, but the Bruins have not faced them in the postseason since 2012-13. Matt Cooke is gone, and while I like nothing better than hating on Sid and Geno, there just isn’t enough meat there. Tampa Bay? The Lightning have been one of the better teams in the East for the last decade or so. Boston has faced them twice in the playoffs during that time, but only once in the last five seasons. It’s close, but I would say that the Bolts are #2 on the hit list, until Boston sees them more regularly in the postseason.
I think if you ask most fans, the answer to the question, who is the Bruins’ biggest rival at this moment, is a pretty easy one. And the winner is…the Toronto Maple Leafs. In addition to being in the same division, the Bruins have faced the Leafs three times since 2012-13 in the playoffs. All three series have been absolute barn burners, going seven games with Boston winning each Game 7, one in extremely dramatic fashion. Toronto is a very talented team that just needs to get over the hump. Unfortunately for them, the B’s seem to be their kryptonite, like the Habs once were for the Bruins. Toronto has not won a playoff series against Boston since 1959.
Some might question whether Boston vs. Toronto is a legitimate rivalry with the series being somewhat lopsided? I would say the answer is yes for a couple of reasons. First, the last three times they met, it went to seven games, all the games were very close, and the Leafs could have easily won all three series. Second, the Toronto fans are easily the most dis-likable group since Montreal, and some would argue they are worse. At least the Canadiens had a history of winning, while Leafs fans are the most entitled I have come across. One would never know from talking to them that their team has not won a playoff series since 2004 (close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades).
So, while it is a little disappointing that the Bruins rivalry with the Habs has simmered in recent years, it’s good to know that their neighbors to the south and west have picked up the torch until Montreal gets back on their feet. Here’s to another seven-game series this postseason, with the B’s winning their fourth straight against Toronto in heartbreaking fashion (fingers crossed).