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Will B's, Habs renew the Fists of February?

Even goaltenders Carey Price and Tim Thomas got in (sort of) on the fistic mayhem the last time bitter Northeast Division rivals Montreal and Boston squared off. (Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)


By Stu Hackel

In Boston, they believe the Bruins' fight-filled and goal-filled win at home over their hated rival, the Canadiens, on Feb. 9 may have been the game of the season in the NHL. In Montreal, it was considered a capitulation to irrationality and hockey thuggery at its worst. Tonight, the teams meet again in a highly anticipated rematch, this time in Montreal, and while some may call for more blood to be spilled, the players and coaches are calling for discipline.

There's just too much on the line for both clubs to repeat the mayhem, the thinking seems to be. The Bruins, whose seven-game winning streak ended with an overtime loss to the Penguins on Saturday, have the Eastern Conference leaders in their sights. The stumbling Flyers are only two points ahead. The Habs, who have won four in a row, want to catch the Bruins for top spot in the Northeast Division and be guaranteed home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. A win could draw them to within three points of the B's. A regulation win by the B's would extend the gap between the clubs to seven points.

"I think you have to turn the page and go game-by-game here," Bruins coach Claude Julien said on Monday (video). "There was a lot of frustration last game and the last time we played. Part of it was us sticking up for ourselves and they have a tendency to want to try and stir the pot and look innocent in those situations. We know what it’s all about and we have to do what he have to do here. But the bottom line is at the end of the night you have to come up with the win and you have to be smart enough to do that."

Julien realizes that the Canadiens have a good power play and he doesn't want his club taking foolish penalties to satisfy some personal vendetta."The good penalties we seem to kill, the bad penalties end up costing us at the end," he said. "That’s what you have to do here -- stay disciplined and make sure you stay out of the box or [that] you’re going to go in there for the right reasons."

The Canadiens may feel they are the aggrieved party -- especially because Julien sent out some of his tough guys after Jacques Martin had sent out mostly non-combatants in the dying seconds of a game that had already been decided on the scoreboard ...

... and rugged Bruins Shawn Thornton, Johnny Boychuk and Gregory Campbell beat up on the Habs' far less pugnacious Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek and Tom Pyatt. But tonight, the cautions are similar.

"The most important thing is the two points," said Habs forward Travis Moen (video), whose scuffle with Andrew Ference touched off that last melee. "We need 'em, they need 'em. I think it's going be a hard-fought game and, hopefully what we're worried about is getting the two points...Our focus is to stay out of the box and work hard and get the two points."

"Revenge is winning," Habs defenseman Hal Gill. "It was crazy, the whole thing. I don't think that's the game they want to play, and I know it's not the game we want to play. In the end, they got the upper hand on us, and we want to take it back."

Besides bringing their fists to the February game, the Bruins also played some very good hockey, jumping out to a 2-0 lead, never falling behind, and responding with goals nearly every time Montreal either tied it or drew close. The David Krejci line with Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton on the wings combined for three goals and eight assists and each player was plus-5. That line has been exceptional for Boston, especially during its recent hot streak, with Krejci as the catalyst. He's had two goals and nine assists in the last eight games and is tied with Patrice Bergeron for the team scoring lead with 10 goals and 40 assists, the 10th highest assist total in the league.

In Montreal, hand wringing by fans who feel  their team isn't tough enough to play with the Bruins led to calls for action at the trade deadline to get bigger and meaner and even emulate the Islanders by summoning minor league enforcers for tonight's contest. That seemed curious to some because until the fight night in February, the Habs had beaten Boston each time they had played this season. Montreal is the faster team and, as Gill said, "The most frustrating thing is when you're chasing around, trying to be physical (on an opponent) and he's skating and moving the puck. That's when we're effective. It's really just playing our game."

And the Habs didn't play their game in February, especially the defensive side. These are both excellent defensive clubs, but that night, defense was forgotten and the goalies, two of the NHL's best, looked less than ordinary. The six goals were the most Tim Thomas has given up all season, the eight the most Carey Price has allowed. What captured everyone's fancy that night was the goalies' squaring off and sorta throwing them... what was the second goalie fight in a week, although both Price and Thomas joked about it afterward. Neither wanted to get "DePietro'ed."

Since then, however, Price's goals-against average is under 1.81 and his save percentage is .946. Thomas took a while longer to rebound, allowing four goals in two consecutive starts, but in his last four games he has surrendered only six.

Usually, the run-up to a game that matches teams who brawled their last time out is filled with speculation of a repeat. And usually, very little happens. That doesn't stop some from pumping that angle -- and in their previews for tonight's game, the fists of February lead the stories on the Boston-area sports TV networks NESN and CSN New England as well as TSN. And over on TSN2, they boiled down the 87-season B's-Habs rivalry to a series of brawls, one slash and one historic playoff game. It makes for a great highlight package, but it's hardly the whole story.

Regardless, recalling these battles will kick-start the adrenal glands and for some, no hockey game is complete without punches being thrown. "Getting the two points is paramount," writes NESN's Douglas Flynn. "Cracking a few heads along the way is just a bonus."

Some people can't be satisfied with just the two points.