The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will renew their storied rivalry Thursday night in Boston when they meet for a NHL record 34th time in the Stanley Cup playoffs in Game 1 of the their Eastern Conference second round series.
Each playoff series serves as another chapter, but the Canadiens have ruled much of this rivalry - winning 18 consecutive series from 1946-1987. But since then, the Bruins have won seven of 11 series including the last two out of three. That one loss for Boston is where the rivalry for a good portion of the core of both teams began and now it's Montreal who is aiming to turn the tide back after coming so close in their seven-game series loss to the Bruins in 2011.
"This building is vibrating!"
Those were the words of long-time NESN Bruins play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards when then Boston Bruin Phil Kessel scored a third period game-tying goal during a classic see-saw affair in Game 6 of the 2008 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the eighth-seeded Bruins and top-seeded Canadiens. The Bruins would have to tie that game again and then win it 5-4 on a Marco Sturm goal with 2:37 left in regulation forcing a Game 7 after trailing the series 3-1. Montreal though avoided the epic collapse, winning Game 7 5-0. Ironically, that was Carey Price's first and last playoff series win - until the Canadiens' recent sweep of the Lighting in the first round of this current playoff season.
But in the eyes of the Bruins and their fans, that 2008 series reignited not only the rivalry, but the organization that has since won two straight series - including a 2009 sweep and their first Stanley Cup in 38 years after that nail-biting win over Montreal in 2011.
That spring, the sixth seeded Canadiens came in as underdogs again to the third-seeded Bruins. But Montreal took the first two games in Boston to take what seemed like a commanding 2-0 series lead back to the Bell Centre for Games 3 and 4. But the Bruins took the next two games, including a 5-4 overtime win in Game 4 after trailing 3-1 early in the second and 4-3 in the third period.
"We were up 3-1. We were up 3-1 going into the third," said Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban this week. "With a veteran team and the experience we had, we should've won the game but we didn't win it. Who's to say what would've happened moving forward? I just think we had an opportunity to beat the team that won the Stanley Cup that year."
Since it was determined last Saturday that these two rivals would meet for the third time in the last five seasons, the Bruins have had no issues expressing their hatred for the Canadiens.
"Yeah I do," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said Wednesday when asked if he hated the Habs. "If you asked them the same question I'm sure they'd give you the same answer.
"It's just natural for me, being here for seven years now, just being a part of this organization, you just naturally learn to hate the Montreal Canadiens and the battles we've had with them over the last couple of years have definitely made you hate them."
The Canadiens however have not given the same answer leading into this series.
"No comment," Montreal coach Michel Therrien said flatly after he was twice asked if he hates the Canadiens Wednesday.
Lucic has built a personal rivalry with Montreal defenceman Alexei Emelin - similar to the one he had with former Canadiens defenceman Mike Komisarek back in 2009.
Last month, Emelin nailed Lucic with a mid-ice hip check that resulted in Bruins captain Zdeno Chara hauling Emelin to the ice. Later in the game, Lucic speared Emelin in the groin. When asked about the personal showdown on Wednesday, Lucic explained that's "just part of the game" - when a right winger and a left sided defenceman square off with each other, and they will develop run-ins like that.
But Emelin wasn't available to comment on the matter after Canadiens practice Wednesday and for much of the week, aside from Subban, many of the Montreal players downplayed the animosity.
Where former Bruin and current TSN regional Canadiens color man Dave Reid is concerned, that's not necessarily Emelin or the Canadiens just taking the high road or following a gag order.
"I think right now most of these guys don't understand what the rivalry is about but it will pick up as the series moves along and the fans will be in it," Reid said Wednesday night. "The fortunate thing about the Montreal and Boston rivalry is that they do seem to play each other so often and whoever won the last series, they've got the swagger to start the series and the guys that were in that previous series on the losing series say ‘Hey we got something to prove.'
That's what makes this rivalry so special - these two teams seem to play each other in the playoffs almost annually. I know the fans look forward to it on both sides and as time goes on so do the players. When you're a player on each side you're almost disappointed when you don't get the chance to go through Boston or Montreal to move on in the playoffs. So this will be another great series and I expect it to be a long series."
Whether it's this new generation of the rivalry or the older, they likely agree with Reid on those points.
And this season's Canadiens are most definitely looking to regain that swagger.
"For guys that are in this room that were there [in 2011] and were a part of it, maybe this is another opportunity to salvage something," Subban later said. "You have to give them credit though. They played well too and it's a seven-game series. It takes a lot of heart, a lot of blocked shots and a lot of grit to win that and they won it. They deserved to win it. But I thought that we fell a little bit short and we deserved to win as well but it didn't happen."
For so many years, "it didn't happen" were the words of Bruins players following a Bruins-Habs series. Can this underdog Canadiens team make the Stanley Cup favorite Bruins utter those same words just as Ken Dryden and the 1971 Canadiens did to Bobby Orr and the heavily favored Bruins that season?
This new generation of the Bruins-Habs rivalry is ready to write the next chapter and whether it's at TD Garden or the Bell Centre, yes Mr. Edwards - the building will be vibrating.
James Murphy is a freelance reporter who also writes for NHL.com, the Boston Herald and XNsports.com. He covered the Boston Bruins/NHL for last 11 seasons writing for ESPNBoston.com, ESPN.com, NHL.com, NESN.com, the Boston Metro, Insidehockey.com and Le Hockey Magazine. Murphy also currently hosts the radio show "Murphy's Hockey Law" heard Saturdays 9-11 AM ET on Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio and 4-6 PM ET on Websportsmedia.com. In addition to that, he is a regular guest TSN 690 in Montreal and Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio as well as a hockey analyst on CTV Montreal.