Ask any expert NHL fan about some of the league’s most hate-filled rivalries, and they’re sure to bring up the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. These teams loathe each other, and there’s no way around it. If the Bruins made it through an entire season with only four losses, but all at the hands of Montreal, it would still be a disappointment.
And yet, for some reason this year, Boston has struggled mightily to bring the typical intensity that comes up when these two blood-rivals take the ice. The Bruins have lost both meetings this season, looking surprisingly flat in their latest bout, a 4-1 loss back in January.
They meet again tonight, with Boston carrying a five-game winning streak up to Montreal. Even though a loss is unlikely to derail the Bruins, currently sitting at second place in the Eastern Conference, they still badly need to beat the Canadiens tonight.
Boston hasn’t beaten Montreal since February of last season, losing the last five meetings between the two clubs. This stat is undoubtedly a big thorn in their side, making tonight’s game that much more important. Initially, hearing that backup Peter Budaj will be starting tonight instead of starter Carey Price, who’s still recovering from an injury suffered during the Olympics, should be good news. However, Boston fans should hardly scoff at this, since it was Budaj who stopped 34 of 35 shots in the Canadiens’ most recent win against the Bruins.
Making things more interesting is the marquee move Montreal made at last week’s trade deadline, acquiring winger Thomas Vanek from the New York Islanders. It’s a huge deal for a team in need of scoring, but an even bigger one when considering how well the Austrian has played against Boston. During his time with the Islanders and Buffalo Sabres, Vanek has an astounding 30 goals and 31 assists in 53 games against the Bruins. When you have someone that averages over a point per game every time he plays you, the last place you want him is on the roster of your arch rival.
In the two games he’s played since joining the Canadiens, Vanek has yet to register a point. Of course, the idea of him waiting until he plays Boston to finally make an impact on his new club is about as probable as you can get.
So, tonight’s game is no pushover for the Bruins. You’d like to think the team is well aware, and will be sure to bring some fire the second the puck drops. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, this hasn’t happened too much in their recent contests against Montreal.
It’s surprising, really. You’d be far less confused if Boston just mentally didn’t show up to play against a team like, say, the Florida Panthers. The club is pretty much out of contention, and the game itself would be considered a cakewalk by many. It would be natural if the Bruins were struggling to find the motivation in a matchup like this.
But Montreal? The one team Boston hates the most? How can you come out so listless against them?
For the Bruins’ sake, this is a trend they need to buck tonight. Obviously, regular season struggles against the Canadiens don’t have a severe impact on how the Bruins perform in the postseason. They lost the season series with Montreal last year, then made it within one game of winning the Stanley Cup. At the same time, losing to the Canadiens stings worse than falling to any other team.
In the end, Boston needs to start putting on a better show in the bouts against their biggest enemy, and they’ll get their first shot to do so tonight.