Your Call: What is the defining Bruins-Canadiens moment?

Jamie Bell, TSN.ca
3/24/2011 10:11:18 AM
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When the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens clash tonight at TD Banknorth Garden on TSN (7pm et/4pm pt), it will be the latest chapter in perhaps the greatest sustained rivalry in NHL history.

While rivalries have come and gone over the years (Flyers vs. Rangers, Canadiens vs. Nordiques, Avalanche vs. Red Wings), the animosity felt between these two legendary franchises has continued since the teams first clashed in 1924.

It is a rivalry that has been written in the blood, sweat and tears of the players involved, but which individual moment in the conflict is the most memorable?

Considering that the teams have faced each other 710 times in the regular season and another 152 times in the playoffs, there is no shortage of events to choose from.

Most recently the fires of the rivalry were stoked when Bruins' captain Zdeno Chara drove Canadiens' forward Max Pacioretty's head into the stanchion near the player's bench at the Bell Centre.  The hit left Pacioretty with a fractured vertebra and a concussion.  While Chara was assessed a five minute major and a game misconduct for the hit, there was no further discipline forthcoming from the NHL.  The lack of action by the league created a firestorm in the press where sponsors Air Canada and VIA Rail both stated that they would consider terminating their contracts with the league if the NHL did not clean up the sport.

The good news is that Pacioretty is improving and may even be able to return during the playoffs; however the damage was clearly already done. 

While the Chara/Pacioretty incident is the most recent, we must travel all the way back to the 1929-30 season to see where the rivalry truly began.

After entering the league in 1924, the Bruins captured their first Stanley Cup title by defeating the New York Rangers two games to none in 1929.  The very next year the Bruins were looking to defend their title when they were swept away in two games by the hated Habs who allowed only three goals in their best-of-three finals.

The Great Depression and the Canadiens' subsequent decade-long slump would put the rivalry on ice, however it would heat up again during the 1943 season.

Despite a lineup featuring a murderer's row of Hall of Fame talent such as Maurice Richard, Toe Blake, Elmer Lach and head coach Dick Irvin, the Bruins would eliminate the Canadiens in the semifinals in just five games.

The Habs would respond the very next year, defeating Boston in five games en route to their first Stanley Cup title since 1931.  At the time the Bruins must have thought that the Habs had simply drawn even, but unfortunately for Boston, the rivalry would be quite one-sided for the next four decades.

Between 1946 and 1987, the Canadiens won 18 straight playoff series over the Bruins. While the duels were largely tilted in the Canadiens favour, there were plenty of memorable moments during that stretch.

Already a demigod in Quebec, Richard took his legend to another level during the 1952 semifinals when, suffering from a concussion and with blood dripping down his face, scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 to send the Bruins packing.  It's a goal that many hockey oldtimers consider the greatest in the history of the game.

The 50's and 60's would be a dark period for hockey in Beantown as the Bruins would often find themselves outside of the playoff picture looking in or defeated in the first round - often at the hands of the Canadiens - who went on to win 10 Cups during that two-decade stretch.

Things changed significantly with expansion in 1969 as well as the arrival in Boston of a skinny kid from Parry Sound, Ontario, Robert Gordon Orr, two years earlier.  Suddenly a moribund franchise had its saviour, and the Bruins captured their first Stanley Cup title since 1941 in 1970 and then again in 1972.

Despite their success, the Canadiens remained the Bruins' nemesis, a point reinforced during the 1979 semifinals where it appeared as though Boston were about to get over the hump and finally dispose of the Canadiens in a playoff series.

With Boston leading by a goal late in Game 7, the Bruins were called for a 'too many men on the ice' penalty, much to the chagrin of head coach Don Cherry.  Canadiens' sniper Guy Lafleur quickly tied the game to send the contest to overtime.  In the extra frame Yvon Lambert would seal the victory for the Habs and help propel Montreal to their fourth straight Stanley Cup title.

By 1984 the Bruins appeared to have seized the upper hand in the rivalry as they had built a powerhouse that had finished the season 49-25-6 thanks to the firepower of Rick Middleton, Barry Pederson and a young star defenceman named Ray Bourque. 

Meanwhile the Canadiens were a mess, having fired head coach Bob Berry mid-season and replaced him with former Habs player Jacques Lemaire.  With a career minor leaguer in Steve Penney between the pipes, few gave the Canadiens a chance when they began their best-of-five series.  However Penney put together the best stretch of hockey of his career and stonewalled the mighty Bruins in three straight games to keep Boston's streak of futility against the Canadiens intact.

The trend continued the very next year as the Canadiens, backstopped by rookie goaltender Patrick Roy, once again eliminated the Bruins in three straight and went on to capture the 23rd Stanley Cup title in the franchise's illustrious history. 

Roy and the Canadiens would confound the Bruins again in 1987 before Boston finally got a measure of revenge in 1988, bouncing the Canadiens out of the post-season in five games as Boston would reach the Finals for the first time since 1978, only to be dispatched in four straight by the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers.

The two clubs continued to meet in an annual rite of spring from 1989 through 1992. Montreal took the '89 series, but Boston won the next three meetings in a row. The Bruins enjoyed some very good years backed by Cam Neely, Bourque, and Andy Moog in goal, and made another Finals appearance in a losing effort against the Oilers in 1990. Montreal enjoyed a Stanley Cup win in 1993, but it was the Bruins who were happy to oust the defending champions the following spring.

After a brief hiatus, the rivalry took on new life with the arrival of the 2002 playoffs.

Thanks to a 101-point season, the Bruins found themselves atop the Eastern Conference at season's end and readied themselves for a first round date with the eighth-place Habs.  With Montreal leading two games to one, Bruins defenceman Kyle McLaren KO'd the Habs' Richard Zednik with a devastating forearm shiver, knocking the Canadiens top forward out of the playoffs.  Instead of packing it in, the Canadiens rallied around their fallen comrade and won the final two games of the series to bring a premature end to the Bruins once-promising season.

Just two years later, the Bruins captured the Northeast Division title once again, setting up another first round encounter with the Canadiens.  With Mike Ribeiro faking injuries and Alex Kovalev running into defenceman Sheldon Souray to set up a Glen Murray overtime winner, it appeared as though the Bruins were in the driver's seat once again with a 3-1 series lead.  History would repeat itself as the Canadiens came storming back to win the next three straight to take the series.  It was the first time in the history of the franchise that the Habs had rallied from a three-to-one deficit to win a series.

The tables would nearly be turned on the Habs in the 2008 playoffs as they would enter as favourites, having captured the Eastern Conference crown with 104 points. They appeared to be home and free after winning the first two games of the series at home, however the Bruins refused to die.  Boston fought back to force a seventh game.  However it appeared as though they had expended too much energy in the process as they were blown out in Game 7 by a 5-0 count.

Regardless of tonight's result, it appears as though these two legendary sides are once again on a post-season collision course.  It would be the 32nd meeting between the teams in a win-or-go-home format with the Habs holding the all-time edge with 24 of 31 series victories. 

As the commercials that the NHL has produced say, 'history will be made' but in terms of existing history which individual moment resonates the most with you?

Our question for you is: 'What is the defining moment of the Canadiens vs. Bruins rivalry?'

Let your opinions be known in our 'Your Call' feature below!

Mike Milbury and Guy Lafleur in the 1970's (Photo: Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)


(Photo: Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
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