BRIGHTON, Mass. – Charlie Coyle remembers being at TD Garden for Game 6 of the Bruins' and Montreal Canadiens' first-round playoff series in 2008 that ushered in the modern era of Black and Gold relevance in Boston.
It was a nasty series full of big hits, fights and a Game 6 comeback win over the Canadiens on a Marco Sturm goal that nearly brought the building down in one of the new Garden’s loudest moments. Bruins-Habs was the kind of heated rivalry that Coyle experienced first-hand as a fan -- and made Coyle decide then and there he’d like to be a part of the rivalry if he made it to the NHL.
He’s already played in a couple of those games, and he’ll suit up for another Bruins-Canadiens tilt at TD Garden on Wednesday night.
“I grew up watching these [Bruins-Habs] games and it’s fun to be a part of it. It’s not hard to be a part of these games and it’s a big one for us too,” said Coyle. “I remember it was Game 6 of the playoffs here and I was in one of the top rows [in the balcony]. I was in the nosebleeds. The atmosphere was unbelievable with friends, cousins and my family and it was so cool to be there watching.
“I always wondered what it would be like playing against [Montreal] for the Bruins. There have been those crazy games that really make it a rivalry, but it’s not always like that. It’s two points and you can’t really lose your focus on that. Every point from here on out is crucial, so we’re focusing on the task at hand.”
Unfortunately for Coyle and the rest of the Bruins and Canadiens contingents, this storied rivalry simply hasn’t lived up to the hype for a good five-plus years.
It’s difficult to gauge exactly where it happened, but somewhere along the way of the Canadiens hammering the Bruins at Gillette Stadium and Milan Lucic and PK Subban departing from their original teams, the annual meetings between the Bruins and Habs have lost some of their mischievous “things have the potential to get out of hand” luster.
Bruce Cassidy admitted the rivalry “isn’t as passionate” as it was when he grew up watching Bruins-Canadiens games as a diehard B’s fan while having his heart broken by dominant Montreal teams on many occasions.
Why is that exactly?
Cassidy laid out a few ahead of the teams' final meeting of the regular season.
"I think the change of personnel in the game has a lot to do with it because there were a lot of fisticuffs in the game back then, or players on the team that were comfortable with that,” said Cassidy. “You lose a bit of that when you don’t have those playoff series that continue the bad blood. We haven’t had those with Montreal in a while. It loses a bit of its appeal because of that. Our [rivalry] is becoming a little bit more with Toronto in recent years, so that’s probably why.
“I don’t know if the younger players have as much knowledge of the rivalry maybe as the previous generation. I miss it. I’m a Bruins fan. I read an article the other day where a guy said he cheers for both teams, and I said ‘How the hell does that happen?’ It’s like the Red Sox and the Yankees. You can’t cheer for both.
"I miss it and I’m a big part of it, so I try to create it in the room. But it’s up to the players to get out there [and create it] if there’s going to be a little fireworks. The next time there’s a playoff series then I think it will re-ignite a little bit.”
One other underlying reason aside from the changing personnel in the game and a drought in playoff matchups: The lack of regular season meetings between the two Atlantic Division rivals.
Ten years ago, the Bruins and the Canadiens would have played each other eight times a year as divisional opponents, and those kinds of regular head-to-head meetings during the season would breed some healthy contempt on the ice. Nowadays the regular season schedule allows for home and away dates against every NHL team, which means no more than a handful of games between divisional rivals.
A change back to the former regular season schedule would be easier on the wear-and-tear to the players, and it would undoubtedly stoke those classic rivalries that have been going a little soft in recent seasons. The Bruins still have a pretty good rivalry going with the Maple Leafs because they’ve met in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, and Boston has dispatched Toronto in the first round three times in the last seven years.
That’s really where it’s at for the players inside the Bruins dressing room when it comes to re-developing a hatred for all things Montreal, and for those strong feelings transforming into captivating action on the ice.
The Bruins and Canadiens haven’t met in the playoff since 2014 largely because Montreal hasn’t had their act together over the last five seasons, and there won’t be a return to true rivalry days until that fundamentally changes.