Haggerty: Bruins-Habs rivalry finally gets back in touch with bad feelings


Haggerty: Bruins-Habs rivalry finally gets back in touch with bad feelings

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. 


What we learned in the Bruins comeback win over the Dallas Stars

AP Photo

What we learned in the Bruins comeback win over the Dallas Stars

Here’s What We Learned in Friday night’s 3-2 comeback win over the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center.

1)      Brad Marchand continues to not get much consideration at all from the referees on the ice. Marchand was against the boards facing the glass in the third period when Jamie Benn jumped up off his skates, slammed Marchand in the head on his way down like Jimmy “Super Fly” Snuka off the top turnbuckle and didn’t even get a minor penalty for a clear charging play. That seemed to completely energize Marchand late in the third period and paved the way for his brilliant pass down low to David Pastrnak with 11.1 seconds remaining for the spinning, game-winning goal.  Credit No. 63 for responding in the right way to a clear cheap shot from Benn rather than losing his cool or something he’d regret on the ice, but Marchand continues to not be treated like a star player on the ice. The NHL should be looking for reasons to protect a main attraction like Marchand rather than letting every player take shots at him, or wrap him up in overtime to the point where he can’t make one of his exciting, game-winning plays as happened in overtime against the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier this week. It’s one thing to hold Marchand accountable for the stuff that’s borderline, or way over the line, and could suspension-worthy. That’s something the NHL should continue to do when he sticks his nose over the line. But Marchand has earned treatment as one of the NHL elite players after scoring more goals than anybody else not named Alex Ovechkin over the last three seasons, and the officials on the ice should be treating him accordingly. Allowing a bigger player like Benn to leave his skates and give Marchand a head slam in the third period of a late season game certainly isn’t providing the B’s left winger with fair treatment on the ice, never mind treating him as one of the league’s best assets. It’s time the referees started making calls with Marchand as one of the league’s top players in mind rather than Marchand, one of the league’s big pests that isn’t really even relevant most of the time anymore.

2)      Clearly Tuukka Rask is Boston’s No. 1 goaltender right now and will be the guy once the postseason gets going in a couple of weeks. But Rask hadn’t been great lately as attested by his so-so .900 save percentage in the month of March, and certainly wasn’t finishing things up in strong fashion for a B’s group that’s admittedly been beset by injuries lately. So it was very important for Rask to have a big performance between the pipes that could get him back on track, and that’s exactly what happened on Friday night in Dallas against the Stars. Rask made a season-high 40 saves against the Stars and was brilliant early in the game when Dallas was throwing everything at him besides the kitchen sink. Rask stopped most of it while allowing just a screened goal and a shorthanded breakaway score for Jamie Benn in the second period, and stopping 40 of the 42 shots he faced through 60 minutes. Within those 40 saves Rask snagged a Tyler Seguin smoked one-timer from the point that he flashed with his glove hand, and later stuffed an Antoine Roussel scoring attempt on a drive to the front of the net. If Rask had allowed just one more goal it might have been impossible for the Bruins to come back from the deficit in the third period, but instead Rask held strong under attack and played his best game in perhaps a couple of months. With only 10 games to go in the regular season, it was the perfect time for Rask to start getting his game back in order as the Bruins begin making preparations for a postseason that sits just a few weeks away. It’s up to Rask to continue trending upward and remain at the highest point of his game going into the playoffs, but perhaps Friday night showed that it’s going to be possible.

3)      The Bruins are never out of it. They’re never dead. You can never count them out. It’s official and they are also officially a powerhouse in the third period when the game is on the line. Once again the B’s reeled off three goals in the third period to key the comeback, and Brad Marchand factored heavily into all three of those scores that allowed the Bruins to come from behind. This will be a skill that could really allow them some gut-punch moments in the postseason where a comeback or two in a series could completely change the momentum of the proceedings. It’s such a great skill to have.


*Brad Marchand factored in all three third period goals scoring on the first when a David Pastrnak shot bounced off his leg, assisting on the second when he broke out with a shorthanded odd-man rush and making a brilliant pass to David Pastrnak for the game-winner with just 11.1 seconds remaining on the clock. Marchand finished with a goal, three points and a plus-2 in 19:57 of ice time and had eight shot attempts in an energetic performance.

*David Pastrnak was nearly just as dominant as Marchand in the final 20 minutes with a goal, two points, a plus-2 and that brilliant curling play in the final seconds as he reached past Kari Lehtonen for the game-winner. Pastrnak had a decent four shots on net in his nearly 18 minutes of ice time, and both Pastrnak and Marchand are stepping up when defenses are thoroughly keying on them down the stretch.

*Tuukka Rask pitched in a season-high 40 saves and made big stops in the second and third periods to keep the Bruins within a couple of goals, and allowing the Black and Gold to engineer that third period comeback that’s become one of their trademarks.


*Jamie Benn scored a shorthanded goal, but finished a minus-2 rating while going a puny 1-for-7 in the face-off circle to go right along with the cheap shot charging hit he threw at Brad Marchand in the third period as well. Benn wasn’t invisible but he made some pretty bad plays before being on the ice for the Boston game-winner in the closing seconds of the third period.

*Brian Gionta finished with a minus-2 and not shots on net in 13:01 of ice time, and the new look line with Jordan Szwarz and Tommy Wingels didn’t do much at all to distinguish themselves while being on the ice for a couple of goals against.

*No shots on net, a couple of giveaways and a minor penalty in 23:36 of ice time for John Klingberg, who didn’t do nearly enough for the Dallas Stars in a game that was a bit of a must-win for the Stars if they hope to end up on the right side of the playoff equation.


Morning Skate: After another B's comeback, looking toward playoffs

File photo

Morning Skate: After another B's comeback, looking toward playoffs

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while some inspiring kids march their lives in every city across the country.

*Here’s the podcast version of this week’s 98.5 the Sports Hub hockey show where FOH (Friend of Haggs) Ryan Johnston and yours truly talked about the ref’s treatment of Marchand, the comeback win over Dallas, Ryan Donato and what the Bruins lineup might look like in the playoffs.

*Ottawa Senators coach and aspiring Bond villain Guy Boucher knows that his job performance is going to be evaluated at season’s end just like that of his underperforming players.

*The Bruins playoff marketing ad chastising Mike Felger for his early season hot take is drawing plenty of attention and praise, including from Forbes Magazine.

*Here’s a cool behind-the-scenes story about how "Hockey Night in Canada" comes together on a weekly basis to be the very heartbeat of NHL coverage in Canada.

*Sean Monahan’s season is over with the Calgary Flames as they plummet out of playoff contention in the Western Conference.

*For something completely different: The March For Our Lives is not only inspiring to somebody like me, but a sign that things are changing in our country. There is a sea change coming and it’s long past time for it to happen.