An age-old NHL rivalry is about to add another chapter to its long and winding history. The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, two teams who have been enemies for what feels like forever, meet up in the Eastern Conference Semifinals tomorrow night. Both clubs made quick work of their first round opponents, setting the stage for what should be yet another epic contest between two of the league’s most storied franchises.
The Bruins come into the series as favorites, as is typically the case when you have the best record in the NHL. However, common belief is, if there’s any team that can derail Boston’s path to the Cup finals, it’s the Canadiens. Montreal has won the majority of the meetings between the two teams lately, and has the kind of team speed that’s been known to give the Bruins struggles.
If the Canadiens really want to throw Boston off their game, though, they need to simply do what they’ve been doing for the past few seasons: agitate. These two teams hate each other, and Montreal has shown in the past they know how to stir the pot with the Bruins. If Boston wants to beat the Canadiens and move on to the conference finals, they simply can’t let their rivals get under their skin.
Montreal has shown expertise when it comes to goading the Bruins. They know how badly Boston loathes them, and they know the Bruins are built as an aggressive team. With the right combination of those two elements, all the Canadiens need to do is irritate Boston to the point where they lose their cool and start piling up the penalties. It seems to happen every single time the teams play each other. It is, pun intended, the proverbial poking of the bear.
The Bruins can call this out all they want. They can accuse the Canadiens of diving, embellishing, flopping and anything else they find annoying about their arch-enemies. But, at the end of the day, if it ain’t broke for Montreal, why fix it? If it results in Boston having to send a parade of players to the penalty box, then it’s a win for the Canadiens.
This is why Montreal poses such a threat to the Bruins. It’s the speed and overall talent, combined with the general thorn-in-your-side playing style they bring to the ice anytime they play Boston. If the Bruins keep handing out power plays because they get hot-headed and can’t stay disciplined, it becomes a huge hurdle to overcome.
Make no mistake; this should be a fiery series. The hatred these two teams have built up between each other is unmeasurable. It’s very likely there will be more than a few Boston players that voice their displeasure about the Canadiens during this series. But a Bruins strategy that involves taking out their frustrations and head-hunting because Montreal spends all night annoying them is one that will fail quickly.
The most effective way to overcome any annoyances the Canadiens cause the Bruins is, obviously, via the scoreboard. Somehow, Boston needs to keep their cool during this series. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be physical, but there’s a difference between clean checks and committing penalties out of anger. My advice to Boston would be simple: take your frustrations out on the opposing goal. The last thing they’ll want is to have a President’s Trophy-winning season come to an end because they couldn’t stay disciplined against their hated rival.