This rite of spring is sometimes more like a right cross, a cross-check, and a few invectives that are better left unprinted. It is as series that matches two distinct cultures, two distinct histories, two distinct ways of speaking -- le parc or the pahk. The stereotype of the elegantly coifed Montreal Canadiens fans with jackets and ties and the rowdy, unkempt Boston Bruins faithful with lunch pails and overalls is too simple, but it's fun to call upon while spreading the lore. For years, the ledger tilted in favor of the Canadiens, who were as charmed as the Bruins were cursed. The penalties and punishments are too numerous to count, but please don’t remind Bruins fans about how to count to five. This rivalry is one of fiercest in sports. No two NHL teams have met in the playoffs as many times, 34, as these two. To date, Montreal is ahead in both series (24-9) and victories (102-68). With realignment – I'm not talking about Pierre Bouchard’s nose, here – this could become an annual affair. And for hockey fans, who could ask for anything better?
Here are some of the highlights from the post-season rivalry through the years:
10.) 1930: Led by head coach Art Ross, the Bruins finish with an .875 winning percentage, the highest in NHL history, after a 38-5-1 season, including four wins in four games against Montreal, which was coached by Cecil Hart. (Hey, those coaches would make good trophy names.) Boston does not drop back-to-back games all season, but that changes as the Bruins face the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. The Habs win the best-of-three series in two games. Goalie George Hainsworth shuts out the Bruins, 3-0, at the Boston Garden and Howie Morenz pots the winner in a 4-3 Cup clincher at the Forum.
9.) 1946: The teams meet in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the series was extended to a best-of-seven format. Montreal opens by winning a pair of overtime games at the Forum, the first on a goal by Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, who often built his legend at Boston’s expense. The Habs then end the series in five when coach Toe Blake’s tiebreaking tally with nine minutes to play in the third period sparks a three-goal outburst and leads Montreal to a 6-3 victory. Richard had seen his goal-scoring total cut from 50 to 27 during the season as many top players returned from military service. Some felt that Richard’s star was dimming. Then he faced the Bruins.
Monteal's legendary Rocket Richard often feasted on the Bruins. (Phil Bath/Sports Illustrated)
8.) 1985: The Bruins even their best-of-five series with the Canadiens by turning a 4-1 deficit into a 7-6 come-from-behind victory in Game 4 at the Garden. Expecting more of the same offensive fireworks two nights later in the deciding match, the teams settle into a chess match, as the game remains scoreless until the final minute of regulation. Finally, with 51 seconds to play, Habs forward Mats Naslund beats Bruins goalie Doug Keans with an angle shot to give Montreal a 1-0 victory. Not that Boston is ever fatalistic about its history with Montreal, but afterwards, Sinden says, "I kind of said to myself, ‘You know, Harry, it’s inevitable.’ It just seems inevitable every time we play them. We probably could have played 10 or 15 periods and never won that hockey game.”
7.) 2004: On the strength of two overtime wins, the Bruins jump to a 3-1 lead in the opening-round series. Boston had captured a thrilling Game 4 at Bell Centre when Mike Knuble tied the game with 31 seconds to play and Glen Murray won it in double overtime. But Montreal rallies with 5-1 and 5-2 victories to force a seventh game. With the game scoreless midway through the third period, Montreal’s Richard Zednik tallies twice, including an empty-netter, as Montreal wins, 2-0, That marks sweet revenge for Zednik, who had taken an elbow in the chops from Bruins defenseman Kyle McLaren during a playoff game two years earlier and suffered a fractured cheekbone, a broken nose and concussion. Despite being outshot in that fruitful third period, 12-4. Montreal goalie Jose Theodore stops 32 shots in the deciding victory.
6.) 2011: A month before this opening-round series, Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had run Max Pacioretty into the turnbuckle during a game in Montreal, injuring the Habs forward and setting off a police investigation of the incident. The playoff series opens in Boston with two easy wins for Montreal as Habs goalie Carey Price holds the Bruins to a single goal over two games. But Boston rallies, taking Game 5 on home ice, 2-1, in double overtime on Nathan Horton’s rebound goal and then captures Game 7 in OT as Horton scores again. After surviving that series, the Bruins later lose the first two games of their Cup final series against Vancouver only to topple the Canucks in a seventh game, 4-0. Boston goalie Tim Thomas holds Vancouver to eight goals in seven games and wins the Conn Smythe Trophy.
5.) 1988: The Canadiens open their second-round series by thumping the Bruins, 5-1, at the Forum, and the Habs seem primed to win their 19th consecutive playoff series against Boston. Even more daunting, Montreal had beaten the B's in the division semis four straight years, with three sweeps, entering the series. Instead, the Bruins rally for a 4-3 win in Game 2 and goaltender Reggie Lemelin holds the Habs to just two goals over the next three games as Boston tops Montreal in a playoff series for the first time since 1943. Those Bruins were a young team, with its top 10 scorers in their 20s. Cam Neely and Steve Kasper each scored twice in the series clincher, and ace defenseman Ray Bourque was at the peak of his career.
4.) 1978: The teams clash in the Cup final for the second straight season, after Montreal’s sweep a year earlier. Perhaps the most famous fight between the two teams takes place in Game 4 at Boston Garden, where David whups Goliath. At 6’2” and 205 pounds, Montreal tough guy Pierre Bouchard meets his match in 5’-8”, 175-pound Stan Jonathan, a Six Nations Native Canadian who learned to punch upward during his fights as a youngster on the reserves. Jonathan tags Bouchard several times during a scrap that leaves the bigger opponent spilling blood onto the Garden ice. The Bruins win the game, but the TKO fails to lift Jonathan’s team to a championship as Montreal prevails in six games. In 2009, the two combatants re-created the bout in a mock scrap at a charity event.
3.)1971: Surely this is the year that Boston will turn the tide against the Canadiens, who are riding a streak of 10 straight series wins against them. Few teams in league history are as explosive as the Bruins, who feature Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, John Bucyk and Ken Hodge. Boston finishes the season with 399 goals for, and just 207 against -- an astounding differential of +192 – and 121 points, 24 more than Montreal. The Bruins win the first game of the opening-round series against the aging Habs and take a 5-2 lead into the second game, but rookie goalie Ken Dryden, in his coming out, is magnificent, and the Canadiens explode for five third-period goals to stun Boston, 7-5. After falling behind 2-1 in games, Boston takes the fourth match at the Forum as Orr becomes the first defenseman to record a playoff hat trick. Still, behind Dryden’s mastery, Montreal takes Game 7 by a score of 4-2 in Boston Garden and sails to another Stanley Cup, the final triumph for its captain Jean Beliveau in his going away party. Le Gros Bill retired after the season.
2.) 1952: Maurice Richard is knocked unconscious after a chain collision in Game 7 of the Habs' semi-final contest against Boston. He takes a check from Leo Labine and whacks his head against the knee of Bruins defenseman Bill Quackenbush, who hopes to become an NHL coach, but instead later coaches the Princeton golf team to an NCAA title. A dazed Richard returns to the bench in the third period, wearing a bandage and later scores the game-winning goal against Boston goaltender Jim Henry, who later greets the bloodied Rocket at center ice in the handshake line with what appears to be a bow of respect. It is considered one of the iconic photos in the history of the game.
1.) 1979: If you wonder why Canadiens fans joke about how Bostonians count to five, this is why. Boston takes a 4-3 lead into the closing minutes of Game 7 of its semi-final series and appears set to end its postseason woes vs. Montreal on Forum ice. But with 2:34 to play in the third period, the Bruins, who had already blown leads of 1-0 and 3-1 in the contest, are called for too many men on the ice. After Bruins defenseman Brad Park clears the puck down a minute later, the Canadiens work a set play that everyone in the building can see coming. Habs center Jacques Lemaire skates down the right side and leaves his signature drop pass for linemate Guy Lafleur, who rifles the puck past Bruins goalie Gilles Gilbert to tie the game a minute into the power play. Like Lafleur and Lemaire, the other four Canadiens on the ice at the time – goalie Ken Dryden, defensemen Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe, and left wing Steve Shutt – would all become Hockey Hall-of-Famers. Still, it is less heralded Yvon Lambert who converts a goalmouth pass from Mario Tremblay at 9:33 of overtime to give Montreal a 5-4 win, breaking the hearts of Bruins fans again. Bruins GM Harry Sinden fires his head coach Don Cherry a month later.
All-time series results
1929 Semi-final: Bruins 3-0
1930 Stanley Cup Final:: Habs 2-0
1931 Semi-final: Habs 3-2
1943 Quarter-final: Bruins 4-1
1946 Stanley Cup Final: Habs 4-1
1947 Semi-final: Habs 4-1
1952 Semi-final: Habs 4-3
1953 Stanley Cup Final: Habs 4-1
1954 Semi-final: Habs 4-0
1955 Semi-final: Habs 4-1
1957 Stanley Cup Final: Habs 4-1
1958 Stanley Cup Final: Habs 4-2
1968 Quarter-finals: Habs 4-0
1969 Semi-finals: Habs 4-2
1971 Quarter-finals: Habs 4-3
1977 Stanley Cup Final: Habs 4-0
1978 Stanley Cup Final: Habs 4-2
1979 Semi-finals: Habs 4-3
1984 Division semi-finals: Habs 3-0
1985 Division semi-finals: Habs 3-2
1986 Division semi-finals: Habs 3-0
1987 Divisiom semi-fimals: Habs 4-0
1988 Division final: Bruins 4-1
1989 Division final: Habs 4-1
1990 Division final: Bruins 4-1
1991 Conference final: Bruins 4-3
1992 Division final: Bruins 4-0
1994 Conference quarter-finals: Bruins 4-3
2002 Conference quarter-finals: Habs 4-2
2004 Conference quarter-finals: Habs 4-3
2008 Conference quarter-finals: Habs 4-3
2009 Conference quarter-finals: Bruins 4-0
2011 Conference quarter-finals: Bruins 4-3