MONTREAL – The first time that the Bruins and Canadiens played each other in Boston this season, Claude Julien lamented that the nearly always inflamed rivalry between the two Original Six clubs had almost become a bit too “civilized” in recent years.
Well, it was back to Neanderthal knuckle-dragging hockey Monday night at the Bell Centre between the storied Atlantic Division rivals and it was also one of the most entertaining games of the season for both. This was the expectation when Montreal loaded up with gritty, physical players in Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw over the summer. It finally played out in reality in the rivals’ third meeting of the season.
“It was definitely a great game of hockey,” said Patrice Bergeron, who has seen the highs and lows of the rivalry in his 13-year career with the Black and Gold. “The intensity, the energy and the physicality was there. This building is always fun to play in.”
It ended with Ryan Spooner scoring on Carey Price in overtime to give the B’s a 2-1 OT win and snap a three-game losing streak, but there was plenty of meat on that hockey bone throughout the 60-plus minutes leading up to the game-winner.
Whether it was a fierce goaltending duel, both sides’ top players holding each other in check, while role players Paul Byron, Spooner and Austin Czarnik scored the goals or opposing players slamming into each other questionable intent, the 63:20 minutes of Bruins/Habs hockey on Monday night had something for everybody.
“It was definitely the most emotional game we’ve had against them this season,” said Tuukka Rask, who finished with 29 saves in a dominant performance against the Habs to improve his career record against Montreal to 6-15-3. “There were a couple of big hits in the first that got everybody going, but I didn’t think it was too chippy. It was pretty honest hockey, tough hockey and both teams battled hard. Even I got a piece of it there.”
Rask made light of it at the end of his comments, but the Bruins goaltender took a fairly healthy hit in overtime from Torey Mitchell while playing the puck well outside the crease. So, even the goalies were fair game in this grudge match. That’s usually a warning sign that players are pretty fired up in a game.
After a slowish first period dominated by Rask and Price, things seemed to wake up when Habs defenseman Alexei Emelin slammed David Pastrnak into the side boards as he attempted to enter Montreal’s zone with his trademark speed. Moments later, Torey Krug steamrolled Andrew Shaw at center ice as both players sped toward a loose puck and the polite niceties were officially put away for the evening at that point.
“I think you saw a lot of hitting tonight, and a lot of borderline hits,” Julien said. “It’s kind of something that we haven’t seen from these two teams for a while. The fans seemed to love it, so we’ll just make sure we just stay within the rules and continue to create some exciting games between the two teams.”
Krug quickly dropped the gloves with Brendan Gallagher on his next shift for a brief bout and it continued to be a tight-checking, taut hockey game with Rask and Price dueling at each end. Emelin was playing the role of villain when he threw a pretty low hip check on Brad Marchand that caused the Bruins forward to flip head over heels toward the end boards. Shaw was back at it when he drilled Adam McQuaid into the stanchion with the kind of hit that’s left a lasting memory for both of these teams in Montreal’s building.
“It was a tight-checking game. Obviously [Tuukka Rask] has been great, and Carey Price is one of the best goaltenders in the league,” said Krug. “The way they’re seeing the puck right now it was going to be a tight-scoring game and a tight-checking game. The team that was willing to go to the net harder was probably going to come out on top, so it was a fun game to play in.
“I figured [the fight challenge from Gallagher] was coming. I feel like it’s one of the things that’s lost in this league is that you hit a guy and you expect a guy to come challenge you. I feel like these days guys are just cowering away, and running away, so I knew [the challenge] was coming and it is what it is.”
It remains to be seen if the Department of Player Safety is going to get involved in any of these borderline hits on the ice, but the uptick in intensity, hatred and good, old-fashioned animosity is something that’s the lifeblood of the Bruins/Habs rivalry.
Just ask Milan Lucic when he was being chased around the Bell Centre ice by Georges Laraque for an entire game looking for a fight, or when Andrew Ference flipped off the Habs fans in the 2011 Stanley Cup run after silencing the crowd with a gigantic playoff goal.
Not every game can live up to the frenzied fever pitches of the recent past or the genuine hatred both sides seemed to feel for each other after the Zdeno Chara/Max Pacioretty incident that went down five years ago
Still, for at least one night the Bruins/Canadiens rivalry was back at full tilt thanks to some of the new characters taking on the villain and hero roles on the ice and the world of hockey better off for it once again.