It’s March 21st, 2022 at TD Garden, Boston Massachusetts and the latest chapter in one of North America’s most iconic and historic rivalries is about to begin, the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. For almost a century, the Canadiens and Bruins have battled each other on the ice providing some of the most famous moments in the history of the National Hockey League, filled with bad blood, hits, brawls, playoff ties and championships, this is a rivalry that is like no other. So ahead of the latest battle between these two, let’s take a look back at one of the fiercest rivalries involving a Canadian team, Boston and Montreal.
Our story begins with the 1924 Stanley Cup Final between the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Tigers. Montreal won the cup that year and in attendance was an American businessman called Charles Adams. Adams would soon pay a $15,000 expansion fee to bring an NHL team to Boston, and the Boston Bruins became the first U.S team in the league. After initially struggling, Boston ended the decade strong, putting them on a collision course with Montreal in the playoffs. In 1929, the two sides would meet in the Stanley Cup playoff semi-finals, the first of a record thirty-four NHL post-season matchups between the two franchises.
Boston would sweep Montreal 3-0 and then go on to win their second Stanley Cup, tying them with Montreal for championships won since Boston’s inception. Montreal would soon get a chance for revenge when the two sides met in the 1930 Stanley Cup Final, after a first game 3-0 win for the Habs (Montreal), the second game was a much more even and hard-fought 4-3 win for Montreal, thus bringing the Cup back to Canada. Montreal would win another playoff series in 1931 but at this point, the Canadiens considered their cross-town rivals the Montreal Maroons as a bigger rival as both teams competed for gate receipts and were in the same division.
That all changed, however, in 1938 when the toll of the Great Depression forced the Montreal Maroons to fold, the league was left with just seven teams, meaning that the NHL structure was realigned, putting Boston and Montreal in the same division. From this point on in 1938, the two sides have been almost inseparable.
In 1942, the New York Americans folded, ushering in the “original six” era of the NHL in which Boston and Montreal would face off in the playoffs nine times between 1943-1958. The first matchup in 1943 was the Stanley Cup Semi-Final, in a series that featured three games going to overtime, Boston came out on top 4-1, their first playoff series win against Montreal since 1929 and levelling the number of playoff series won by both sides.
Montreal, from this point, however, would dominate the rivalry, starting with the 1946 Stanley Cup final. The two sides finished first and second in the regular-season standings setting up a second Stanley Cup final match between the two. Just like 1943 it was a tough series that had three overtime matchups, Montreal would win the Finals 4-1 to win their sixth championship. Montreal would again win the cup in 1947 before the two clashed in the 1952 Stanley Cup semi-final. Boston had a three-game to two lead going into game six matchup at home, and after taking a 2-0 lead, it looked like Boston would get one over their rivals from Quebec. But Montreal fought back with goals from Eddie Mazur and Maurice Richard, forcing the game into overtime. One period of OT wouldn’t be enough to separate the two, forcing the need for a second overtime, in which Montreal’s Paul Masnick goal would force a game seven. Boston would have their heartbreak compounded, with a 3-1 loss in the Montreal Forum.
It would be three years until the two would meet again, and before they could meet in the 1955 Semi-Final, the tie was already overshadowed by an earlier match-up between the two. On March 13th, 1955, Boston played Montreal at Boston Garden. In the third period, Bruins defenceman and former Habs player Hal Laycoe high stuck Montreal talisman Maurice Richard in the head, sparking an on-ice brawl. In the confusion that followed in the fighting, Richard struck linesman Cliff Thompson in the face. At the end of the game, the Boston police tried to arrest Richard but were blocked from entering the dressing room by the Canadiens staff, citing that it was a matter for the NHL to deal with.
While Hal Laycoe escaped punishment, Boston owner, Walter A. Brown alongside the other NHL owners wanted the book thrown at Richard, and NHL president Clarence Campbell obliged by suspending Richard for the rest of the season, infuriating the Montreal fans and eventually leading to the “Richard Riot” on March 17th.
Just five days later, Boston and Montreal would meet again in the playoffs, and Montreal would get revenge for Richard by winning the series 4 games to 1. Richard would return to face Boston when the two met in the 1957 and 1958 Stanley Cup Finals. Montreal brought the cup home on both occasions, during a run that saw them win an unprecedented five cups in a row from 1956 to 1960. For Boston, it was closing in on almost twenty years since they had last won the Stanley Cup.
By 1967, the NHL had now expanded to include twelve teams in total, but from 1965-1979, Boston and Montreal would dominate the league. The two sides would meet in the playoffs in 1968 and 1969 and while Montreal again won both ties, Boston was now a team with championship ambitions. In 1970, Montreal missed the playoffs for the first time since 1949, clearing the path for the Bobby Orr and Johnny Bucyk led Bruins to make the Stanley Cup final, where they faced off against the St. Louis Blues. Boston swept the Blues 4-0, winning their first Stanley Cup trophy in 29 years. Montreal, who lifted the trophy themselves in 1968 and 69, rebounded in 1971 to beat Boston in the playoffs, on their way to winning the cup and the two sides weren’t done there.
With Boston winning their fifth Stanley Cup in 1972, and the Habs again winning in 1973, it meant that from 1968-1973 either Montreal or Boston won the Stanley Cup. To further cement this dominance, sixteen of the possible thirty places in the Stanley Cup from 1965-1979 were made up from both Montreal and Boston, and the two sides would meet in the big game against each other in 1977.
Montreal went into game four with a chance to sweep Boston, and an overtime goal from Jacques Lemaire would secure the series 4-0 for the Canadiens. The two would again meet in the championship series again in 1978 and there would be no love lost between the two. In game four, Habs Pierre Bouchard and Bruins Stan Jonathan got into a bloody fight that resulted in a nearby linesman having his face smeared in Bouchard’s blood, such was the intensity of the punches. Boston won the game 3-4 to level the series, but once again Montreal won the champions by winning the next two games.
To close out the seventies, the two sides met in a closely contested Stanley Cup Semi-Final series that went to a seventh game. Bruins winger Rick Middleton gave Boston a 4-3 lead with just four minutes left in the third quarter. But Boston would be penalized for having too many men on the ice, giving the Canadiens a power play and Habs forward Guy LaFleur scored to send the game to overtime. Yvon Lambert won the game for Montreal and the Habs would go on to lift their twenty-second Stanley Cup against the New York Rangers in the championship round.
As the league continued to expand and diverse, teams such as the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers would dominate the league in the eighties, but the intensity and heat of the Canadiens and Bruins rivalry was not going anywhere. From 1984 to 1994, the two rivals clashed in the playoffs every year except 1993. Montreal continued to dominate, winning in 1984, 1985 and again in 1986, that 1986 side would go on to win Montreal’s first Stanley Cup since 1979. In the fowling season, the two met in the regulator season on November 20th. After an initial brawl, Canadiens forward Chris Nilan was ejected, and on his way back to the dressing room took a swing at Boston’s Ken Linseman who at the time was on the Bruins bench. This sparked a mass brawl almost immediately after the initial one had assumed with both sets of players fighting each other in the hallway, with punches being thrown from the Bruins bench all the way to the Bruins dressing room.
Tensions were high between the two as they faced off in 1987 but with Montreal sweeping the game 4-0, it had now been the fourth, five years since Boston had defeated Montreal in the playoffs. But then came 1988. In 1988, Boston and Montreal met in the division finals and the Bruins has a 3-1 lead going into game five at the Montreal Forum. Boston had been here before, with the chance to knock out Montreal only for the Habs to break their hearts, but not this time. Boston stunned the home crowd to win the game 4-1, after losing eighteen consecutive playoff ties against Montreal, Boston has finally come out on top.
Montreal would get revenge in 1989, but it was clear that the rivalry had changed. In 1990, Boston again held a 3-1 series lead in the playoffs against Montreal. They defeated the Habs 3-1 at the Boston Garden, eliminating Montreal from the playoffs on their home rink for the first time since 1943. Boston followed this up with a game seven win against Montreal in 1991, for the first time in team history, Boston had recorded back-to-back playoff wins against the Canadiens. A 4-0 Boston sweep in 1992 meant that this was for sure a rivalry no longer dominated by Montreal, Boston had just won three playoff series in a row, the black and gold was on top. But while Boston was changing the narrative of the rivalry in the playoffs, Stanley Cup success eluded the Bruins.
In 1993, they finished first in their division, but it was the fourth-placed Montreal who advanced to the Cup Final. The Canadiens won their twenty-fourth Stanley Cup with a 4-1 series win against the LA Kings to put them back on the NHL summit for the first time in seven years. To conclude this era of playoff matchups between the Habs and Bruins, the two sides met in the 1994 playoffs. Montreal had the chance to win the series at home in game six, but Boston spoiled the party and then went on to win game seven, knocking out Montreal and having the honour of being the last team to win a playoff game at the Montreal Forum.
As the rivalry entered the 21st century, Montreal and Boston would continue to butt heads in the postseason. After eight years of not meeting in the playoffs, the two were set to meet in the 2002 Conference Quarterfinals. Despite finishing fourteen points behind Boston in the regular season, Montreal shocked their rivals, winning the series 4-2 and recording their first playoff series win over Boston in four attempts, stretching back to 1989.
It wouldn’t be long before the two would meet again as they would be pitted against each other at the same stage as before in 2004. Boston would win the fourth game in double overtime at Montreal’s Bell Centre to take a commanding 3-1 lead. But Montreal rallied to win three games in a row to again knock out the Bruins. It was the first time in Bruins history has been eliminated from the playoffs after holding a 3-1 lead, and also the first time the Canadiens had won a series from 3-1 down.
Montreal’s head coach in 2004 was Claude Julien, but by 2007, he was now the man in charge at Boston. Julien wouldn’t have to wait long to experience the playoff rivalry from the other bench as the two sides met in the 2008 Conference Quarterfinal. Montreal had swept Boston in the regular season, and it looked like they were on their way to sweeping the Bruins in the playoffs after taking an early 2-0 lead. But Boston refused to lie down, fighting back to win three of the next four games to force a game seven, it would be one game too many though for Boston, as Montreal won the deciding game 5-0. For the first time since the 1980s, Montreal had won three playoff series in a row against Boston, and even though they didn’t win the Stanley Cup in the 2000s, the big moments versus Boston up until this point had all belonged to the red and blue.
Boston would have the last laugh however, the two would meet once more in the 2009 playoffs and would sweep Montreal 4-0, their first sweep over the Habs since 1992. They scored at least four goals in all four games, cementing their dominance in the series and giving them plenty of optimism going into the 2010s.
The 2010/11 season would go down as a pivotal year in the history of the rivalry. These were two teams who absolutely didn’t like each other. On February 9th Boston won a high-scoring regular-season game 8-6, but the big talking point was the fighting that assumed on the ice. After some early fireworks, a line brawl broke out in the second period with players on both sides pairing up and exchanging punches. Goaltenders Carey Price and Tim Thomas even got in on the act and fought each other. When it was all said and done the final scorecard was six fights, and 187 penalty minutes issued. Less than a month later, the two-faced off again, this time the Habs came out in top with a 4-1 win. But again, the score wasn’t the thing on people’s lips afterwards.
With time winding down in the second period, Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara checked Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty into the bench area. Pacioretty’s head made contact with a metal upright knocking him unconscious, forcing him to be taken to hospital. At the dismay of Pacioretty, Chara was not suspended or fined for the hit, although the Montreal Police department did conduct a criminal investigation into the incident.
Tensions were high, setting the stage for yet another playoff matchup between the two. Game one at Boston’s TD Garden took place on April 10th and anticipation was so high in Quebec, that the Canadian Federal Election French-language debate that was scheduled to air the same day was brought back to the 13th as to not conflict with the game. Montreal raced into a 2-0 series lead but after three consecutive wins, including two victories in overtime, Boston was back in the driving seat. Montreal would force a deciding game seven, and after three periods it was 3-3, forcing overtime to decide the series.
With fourteen minutes left on the clock in OT, Bruins winger Nathan Horton got the puck in space and hit a shot that went passed Habs goalie Carey Price, winning the game and the series for Boston. The Bruins would then go on to beat the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, their first Stanley Cup championship since 1972. It was also the first time since 1929 that Boston had beaten Montreal and won the Stanley Cup in the same playoff campaign.
In 2014, the two sides met yet again in the playoffs, the thirty-fourth time the two sides had in the postseason. The two sides once again went back and forth throughout the series, again forcing a game seven. This was the ninth time a playoff series between the two had gone to a game seven, the most in NHL history. Montreal won the game 3-1 to advance to the next round, as of 2022 this was the most recent playoff series between the two, with Montreal holding a 25-9 advantage since the Bruins win in 1988, the playoff series is a more balanced 7-5, in favour of Boston.
It’s 2022, and after ninety-eight years the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins can lay claim that they have the most storied and fierce rivalry in Hockey. Boston may be an American team from Massachusetts, but it’s clear to see the Bruins alongside their Quebec rivals have had a huge impact on Canada’s most popular sport. Boston and Montreal are not going to meet in the playoffs this year, but if history has taught us anything, it won’t be long before one of the greatest sports rivalries in Canada will be at the NHL’s centre stage once again.
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