- The rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins once dominated the NHL but has subsided in recent decades.
- Below is a recap of the sometimes violent animosity between the two teams as well as an outline of the things that have changed.
What is widely known as one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports will add many more chapters as the Montreal Canadiens play the Boston Bruins four times in the 2019-2020 season. Those four games will bring the total amount played between the two teams to 750 games.
The teams first met in 1924, in Boston, with the Canadiens winning 4-3. The rivalry only truly began in the 30s after some league realignment and the two teams found themselves in the same division. No two teams in NHL history have faced each other more than the Habs and the Bruins. In the playoffs, the teams have met in 34 series and played 177 games.
After the Bruins beat the Canadiens in the 1929 playoffs, the Habs came back to beat them for the Stanley Cup in 1930. The two teams have met in 7 Stanley Cup Finals with the Habs winning every single one. They most recently squared off in the 2014 playoffs, the Canadiens winning the series 4-3.
Perhaps most famously, an altercation in 1955 between Habs legend Maurice Richard and Bruin Hal Laycoe ended up with Richard getting suspended for the remainder of the season and the playoffs, which made Habs fans riot.
These days, the rivalry has been less ferocious but for many fans, it still represents the most important rivalry in hockey history.
But does the rivalry still matter to a new generation of fans?
A (Short) History of Violence
Much of the rivalry can be attributed to bad blood, stemming from a centuries-old history. Counting the Richard Riots, Boston and Montreal have had numerous on-ice altercations. In the 80s, a fight spilled into the dressing room.
In 1955, Boston police attempted to arrest Richard after he attacked Laycoe with his stick but were barred from doing so.
Many in Montreal considered the suspension unjust and accused the league commissioner of discriminating against French Canadiens. In response, Habs fans rioted following a game at the Forum, caused $500,000 in damage, and looted stores within 15 blocks of Ste-Catherine.
In the 70s, the Habs went on a dominant playoff run against the Bruins. In four playoff matchups during the decade, the Habs defeated the Bruins each time, including with two Stanley Cup victories. Hockey was a little different in the 70s as many games featured brutal fights.
In this millenium, the Habs have faced the Bruins in six playoff series, the Canadiens winning four out of six times. The rivalry has seen heated moments such as the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty during the 2011 playoffs. Like the Richard incident, Montreal police investigated the possibility of pressing criminal charges against the Bruins defenseman.
There hasn't been a playoff series between the teams since 2014, but the rivalry still lives on in the regular season.
Because of that, some younger fans might question the relevance of the rivalry because they haven't seen it at its height.
Nothing Compares To You
Arguably the closest comparison you can make to the Habs/Bruins rivalry is the Habs/Leafs rivalry.
The Habs and Leafs do indeed have a storied history. But with no disrespect to Leafs fans...the Bruins rivalry has you beat in every way.
Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette tells MTL Blog that "Some would probably argue it’s bigger than Habs vs Leafs because there’s more of playoff history between Montreal and Boston."
All one has to do is look at the numbers to see how the Leafs don't compare to the Bruins one bit. The Bruins have the edge on the Leafs in terms of playoff matchups. And really, the playoffs are where rivalries are born.
The Canadiens beat the Leafs for two Stanley Cups compared to Boston's seven and have faced the Leafs in only 71 playoff games compared to 177 for the Bruins. If you've faced a team 100x more than another, it's safe to say that you'll have a better rivalry.
Sean McIndoe of The Athletic tells MTL Blog that the Boston/Montreal rivalry "matters less than before because in today's NHL every rivalry matters less than before."
With broadcasters trying to squeeze out every bit of ad revenue out of the game, rivalries are often created out of thin air or with a dubious history.
"We'll never have the late-70s heat again, or even the Subban/Lucic level of animosity, but there's still almost a century of history here. So yeah, it definitely matters," says McIndoe.
As hockey has moved towards finesse and skill over brute violence in the past few years, the intensity of certain historical rivalries has diminished.
The Athletic Montreal's Sean Gordon tells MTL Blog that "yes, the rivalry definitely still matters, but not as much as it has in the past because one team is really good and the other isn't. Also, they don't play each other as often as in the good old days."
The "good old days" refrain is common to hear but for many modern-day fans, the "good old days" equals unskilled hockey players brutalizing each other. Hockey fans these days crave speed, skill, and breathtaking displays of talent.
Both the Habs and the Bruins have that in spades these days, with the Bruins having an edge, as Gordon mentioned. But don't you doubt for a second that the animosity between the Habs and the Bruins isn't there, though!
If history is any indication, all it'll take is one wrong look or one questionable hit to rekindle those flames.
The Habs versus Bruins rivalry still does matter to some extent, though less so than before. I hate to say it, but "kids these days" might never know or appreciate the intensity of Montreal's rivalry with Boston.
Ultimately, it's a matter of perspective and experience. The Habs and the Bruins will always dislike each other but it's up to you to feel how deep that runs.
What I think the kids need is one more intense playoff series to go the distance. Sorry Leafs fans, but constantly getting beat by the Bruins in the second round is no rivalry.
Habs versus Bruins Eastern Conference Final, anybody?