While it is generally quite difficult to get an NHL general manager to admit that one regular season game is more important than any other, Boston Bruins' GM Peter Chiarelli admitted that tonight's grudge match between his team and the Montreal Canadiens has the potential to be memorable.
"There's 82 of these games, but this is one of the more exciting ones," Chiarelli told Michael Landsberg today on Off the Record.
There has been no lack of hype leading up to the sixth and final regular season encounter between these two storied rivals. While the Canadiens hold a 4-1 advantage so far in the season series, the Bruins lone victory came in a vicious encounter that saw the two teams rack up 14 goals and 182 minutes in penalties.
The tensions then were raised to another level in their last meeting after Habs forward Max Pacioretty suffered a concussion and fractured vertebra after his head was driven into a stanchion near the player's bench by Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.
The furor reached a fever pitch when Chara received no additional discipline for the hit, causing outrage in Quebec with NHL sponsors Air Canada and VIA Rail threatening to pull their sponsorship if the league did not clean up their act.
The lead up to tonight's contest (TSN, 7pm et/4pm pt) makes it one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the season between teams that Chiarelli considers the biggest rivals in the NHL.
"I've been part of the Toronto and Ottawa rivalry and this seems pretty big now," Chiarelli told Landsberg.
The ill will between the two sides grew on Wednesday when Bruins veteran Mark Recchi went on a Boston radio station and made claims that the Canadiens embellished Pacioretty's injury in order to get Chara suspended.
While Chiarelli said he was less than thrilled at Recchi's comments, he supports his player's right to state his opinion.
"I thought that we didn't need to stir up any more stuff for this game," said Chiarelli. "I want these guys to speak their minds so if they felt that way then well, they felt that way."
While Chiarelli would not comment on whether he believed that the Canadiens were playing up the injury for their own personal gain, he felt that Pacioretty's situation seemed very different to that of his own player, Patrice Bergeron, who was also diagnosed with a Grade 3 concussion earlier in his career. Just days after the diagnosis, Pacioretty sent out a message to his followers on Twitter (@MaxPacioretty67) that he was at the movie theatre, something Recchi took issue with.
"I've been part of some significant concussions, Grade 2 and Grade 3, where the players have been in a fog for a long, long time. I don't know how accurate the Tweets are, so I would say, I'm not sure."
While the Bruins were criticized for their overly physical brand of hockey, Chiarelli made no apologies about the style his team employed.
"What we have to do is get pucks behind their defence and establish a really strong forecheck," said Chiarelli. "That translates into a rougher game but certainly we don't try to go out and fight."
He also stated that the Canadiens seemed to be willing combatants.
"It takes two to tango, and I feel really strongly about that. It wasn't like they were backing down on anything."
While Chiarelli does not expect the Habs to come out looking to settle any scores, especially with commissioner Gary Bettman in attendance, he does anticipate a physical and tough game.
In a season filled with memorable moments, both good and bad, sometimes as a hockey fan, that's all you need.
"Yeah, I'm excited for it," said Chiarelli.