MONTREAL - The Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins had a relatively tame series this season, but their final regular-season meeting showed there's no love lost between the two bitter rivals.
Some questionable hits and perhaps some payback for Boston captain Zdeno Chara peppered a spirited game Wednesday, won by the Bruins 4-3 in a shootout,
"When you're playing the Bruins, the emotion just comes with it. Guys that have been here for a number of years know what it's like to play against this team," Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges said. "I've always said no matter what the standings are, these are always close games, doesn't matter what the position is. These are fun games to play in and there was a lot of emotion on both sides."
But the emotions weren't limited to those on the ice.
At the end of the first period, Chara took a Tomas Plekanec clearing attempt to the chin. A loud and continuous cheer roared from the crowd as he lay there bleeding and was being tended to by the Bruins' trainer.
Chara is no fan favourite in Montreal, especially after last March's contentious hit on Max Pacioretty that left the Canadiens forward with a cracked vertebra and a concussion.
"I'm disappointed," Chara said. "It's part of hockey–you're going to get hit with sticks and pucks and get stitched up but I was disappointed by the reaction. It has nothing to do with sport–even with what happened previously between these two teams.
"But, that’s something I can't control."
While fans offered no sympathy for the Bruins captain, on the ice was a different story as Plekanec gave the defenceman a friendly tap.
"That was a really nice gesture," Chara said. "He asked me afterwards, too; that’s a really sportsmanlike gesture so I appreciated that."
What was less so was a clipping attempt by Boston’s Brad Marchand on Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin at the end of the second period. The hit, which earned the winger a two-minute minor, was similar to his hit on Vancouver’s Sami Salo back on Jan. 8 for which he was handed a five-game suspension.
"I don't like it. I don't think there's a place for it," Gorges said. "There's a time and a place for a hip check, that’s one thing, but when a guy’s coming to hit you or you're going to hit a guy and you submarine a guy, it’s just a dangerous play.
"He's a strong kid. I've seen him hit guys. I don't know what he's ducking for."
Emelin's hits have been catching opponents by surprise this season. He upped his season total to 172–fourth-best among NHL defencemen–with five against the Bruins, including a heavy one on Shawn Thornton in the first period. The Bruins tough guy also rocked by Canadiens centre Lars Eller shortly thereafter, took exception to the Emelin hit in a manner Montreal head coach Randy Cunneyworth wasn't too pleased with.
"I thought Thornton's blindside hit on Emelin was a tough one to take that nobody saw," he said. "I'm not even sure that Emelin had the puck so I'm a little concerned about that."
While that went undetected, more discipline could be on the way for Marchand. Cunneyworth said he didn't see the Marchand hit but others told him "it's quite low."
"We just had a meeting with Brendan Shanahan, so I'm sure they'll be looking at it," he said. "If Brendan's true to his word, I think they're looking at all those situations. Obviously they're not going to let those dangerous hits go."