Part 4 of our continuing series: An Australian on Ice Hockey.
Part 1: You make excuses for the Habs
Part 5: The Psychology of Choking
When it comes to sporting rivalries, the Canadiens/Bruins East coast hockey rivalry is amongst the most intense, challenging perhaps only the Spanish Clasico and Glasgow's Old Firm derby. Understandable too: both are "Original Six" franchises - one of the six teams who sustained the foundling NHL from 1943-1967 when the league first expanded. Both have had amongst the game's most iconic players - from the Bruins' Bobby Orr (inexplicably selected by insert redneck adjective here Don Cherry as the best hockey player ever - I'm not debating he's good, just that Gretzky was better) to the Habs' Maurice Richard.
Both teams are ranked first and fourth on the all-time list of Stanley Cup champions and both haven't won the big shamu since the early nineties. This matchup sees Montreal, one of the world's best-looking cities (seriously guys, if you're single, MTL's the place to be), playing a seven-game series against the ugliest city - and we're not talking landscapes here - on the
face arse of the planet, Boston, only six hundred kilometres away. Both teams feature supporters who struggle to pronounce lots of common English words. To quote Doctor Evil - "we're not so different, you and I".
And they've got recent history too. When Zdeno Chara put Max Pacioretty into the turnbuckle at the Bell Centre in March, any recent thawing of relations went out the window. The hit - resulting in a fractured C4 vertebra for the Hab youngster - reverberated not just around the Bell Centre boards but the NHL, prompting calls for new concussion protocols and to protect the head. It was announced Chara would be investigated by the Montreal Police department, but thte SPVM is yet to draw any conclusions. In the midst of a controversial year, the Habs won the season-series 4-2 but lost the Division to their rivals.
What's amusing (and mildly surprising) is that similarities between the cities don't just end with their hometowns. Both clubs rely on their Vezina trophy-nominated goaltenders (Carey Price and Tim Thomas) and both clubs have a fleet of busy skaters, rather than sublimely-skilled ones: Montreal will pit Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Thomas Plekanec against a (probably slightly better) Bruin forward core of Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and Patrice Bergeron. Both sides have strength in depth, rather than in superstars. The Bruins' don't counterpunch like the Habs, but that's a result of yet more injuries to Hab defencemen. While not a vintage year for either squad, this could be each team's most successful playoff run for nearly two decades. In the words of the Highlander - there can be only one.
It could be that - good-looking women apart - the cities are rivals not just because of their clashes during the 1970s and before, but because each city was the jewel in their country's crown until recent times. There are a lot of similarities between both cities: a working-class city dotted with pockets of "old money"; a history of sporting success; decreasing global importance and the fans' appreciation for hard work and spunk. Boston and Montreal will continue to fight it out on the ice.
And, as fans, we love it.