By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON What to do for an encore after the two most heated NHL rivals produced 182 combined penalty minutes, 45 penalties, 13 fighting majors, 14 goals and one pretty amusing goalie fight their last time out?
Thatll be the question for both the Bruins and the Canadiens when they tangle for their final regular-season game at the Bell Centre Tuesday night with much more than machismo and bragging rights on the line.
It was pretty crazy, said Milan Lucic. Especially that second period with eight goals scored, and four for each side. I remember watching the highlights later and hearing Jack Edwards, the Bruins' play-by-play announcer on NESN say Mercy. It was fun to be in, and I know our fans talk about it and remember it.
Obviously there were some things we did great like sticking up for each other and being team tough. But moving forward we still have to do the same things: be smart, be team tough and do what helped us last game in establishing a lead and setting the right tone.
The Habs have righted their ship with four wins in a row after the Bruins truly rocked their world with the thrashing at the Garden, and its clear theres an overwhelming desire for payback on Montreal minds.
Belmont, Mass., native Paul Mara has played for both teams, but wasnt a member of either organization when Boston and Montreal played their bloody match. Mara's a Canadien now, having been acquired by Montreal from Anaheim a few days after that game, and it sounds like he wants a piece of the Bs this time around.
"I know where I was exactly. I was in the locker room in Vancouver watching that game unfold and wishing so bad I was playing in it," said Mara to reporters.
Theres an admission among the Canadiens, however, that playing a finesse, skill game is the way for Montreal to do damage.
"First and foremost we want a win. We're chasing these guys in our division," said Mara. "But at the same time we have to take a stand and show them we're not going to back down."
Priority number one for Montreal should be cutting into the Bruins' five-point lead in the Northeast Division. The Canadiens have won three of the four meetings between the teams this season . . . but one of those defeats provided Boston with a turning point in its season.
It was the third-period meltdown in Montreal on Jan. 8 that embarrassed a Bruins team spinning its wheels in the first few months of the season. They collected themselves in Pittsburgh the following day and have gone a sterling 17-7-1 since that gut punch of a defeat by the Habs in their raucous home building.
Tuesday night will be Bostons first game back since crumbling under the pressure.
Of course, the Black and Gold have been buoyed by a series of trades that strengthened the roster. But it was clear Boston had also changed seasonal course prior to the deals. The B's now sit in the NHLs top five in goals for and goals against this season, and are one of the hottest teams in the league while taking points in each of their last eight games.
With a win, it's possible for the Bruins to move into a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference with the Flyers.
Its a big two points for each team, said Shawn Thornton, who pummeled Roman Hamrlik in the last meeting in Boston and received criticism in Montreal for fighting a non-fighter despite a Hamrlik punch to the face that opened things up. Theyre trying to catch us, and were trying to catch the team up above us. Well play the tough brand of hockey that we usually do, but were also going to have to be disciplined. Thats not an easy building to do that in.
"Theyre the ones chasing us in the division, said Lucic. They always give us a tough game when we go up there, and make it tough for us to play against them. So thats the way well have to play: definitely hard, but also playing smart.
Well see from the drop of the puck. Obviously there will be some strong emotions and we know the fans will be into it. Well see how the game goes."
For the Bruins, the game will be much more about solving Carey Price, who is 5-3-1 with a 1.81 goals against average and .941 save percentage since allowing eights goals to the Bruins during fight night. There isnt likely to be any goalie fisticuffs this time around, so the Bs should expect a much better Price to go along with the rest of his Habs teammates.
Instead this game could be much more about making statements to a Montreal team positioned to perhaps square off against the Bruins for another playoff series in the storied rivalry.
It might not be a Fight Night, but that doesnt mean blood wont be boiling on either side once the puck is dropped in the NHLs longest-running feud.