It’s the longest and most storied rivalry in hockey and one of the best in all of sports. The Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins are meeting each other for an astounding 34th playoff series this year. The overall record in head-to-head playoff series wins is a little lopsided with the Canadiens owning a 24-9 record. However, since the 90s the trend has shifted, with the Bruins taking six of the nine series since 1990.
The Bruins knocked off the Canadiens four times in five years, beating them in 1990, 91, 92 and 94. The tide shifted back to the Habs in 2002, when the no.8 seeded Canadiens defeated top seeded Boston in six games. In 2004, Montreal overcame a 3-1 series deficit to again take out the heavily favoured Bruins. Four years later, Montreal was the top seed but were forced to seven games by Boston before decisively defeating them in Game 7. The Bruins got their revenge a year later, sweeping Montreal with the seedings reversed. In 2011, the teams again met in a classic series, as the Bruins won Game 7 in overtime.
Like any great rivalry, we’ve seen many unforgettable moments and the tension has only grown based on the frequency of their meetings, particularly their playoff meetings. Those playoff meetings have rarely disappointed and are never short on drama. Here are the top 10 playoff moments in this epic rivalry.
10) Bruins Triumph in Topsy Turvy Game 6 (2008)
After being swept in the regular season meetings with Montreal, (0-7-1) the Bruins staved off elimination in Game 5 of their 2008 series with the Habs, forcing a Game 6 in Boston. It produced the best game of the series.
Montreal jumped on the Bruins early, but couldn’t pull away, nursing a 2-1 lead going into the third period. The final period was a seesaw affair, with neither team being able to hold a lead for very long.
The Bruins tied the game at 2 early in the third, before Francis Bouillon regained the lead for Montreal. Boston then got two quick goals from Milan Lucic and Phil Kessel to jump out in front 4-3. The lead lasted all of 11 seconds, as Chris Higgins quickly tied the score at 4 with his second goal of the game.
Finally the Bruins jumped out in front for good, as Marco Sturm got in alone in front of Carey Price, held the puck and lifted it over the sprawling goaltender to give Boston a 5-4 lead with just 2:37 left. The underdog Bruins held on for the win and forced a Game 7 in Montreal. Though they fell short in Game 7, their resilience in this game showed that nothing comes easy in this rivalry.
9) Sweet Revenge! Zednik Completes Habs Series Comeback (2004)
Two years after being elbowed in the head by Kyle McLaren and being forced out of the 2002 playoffs, Richard Zednik came back to haunt the Bruins two years later.
The seventh seeded Canadiens had forced a seventh game in Boston after being down 3-1 in the series.
The teams played a tight Game 7, which saw few scoring chances, though the Bruins controlled most of the game. José Théodore was again stoning Boston, as he wound up stopping all 32 of Boston’s shots.
The Bruins came out as the aggressors in the third period of Game 7 which was still scoreless. The Bruins had fired nine shots in the third period, by the midway point, while the Canadiens had yet to get one on Andrew Raycroft; then they got one.
Alex Kovalev, who had been the early goat of the series, threw a puck in front of the net, and it landed right on the stick of Richard Zednik, who roofed a wrist shot past Raycroft, giving the Habs a 1-0 lead.
Boston came back looking for the equalizer but could not solve Theodore. With an empty net, Zednik put the Bruins away with just seconds remaining, giving the Habs a 2-0 win and another stunning upset over Boston.
The victory had to feel good for Zednik after suffering the horrific injury he did two years earlier. It was also Theodore’s last great moment as a Canadien.
8) Ouch, Kovalev; Murray Puts Habs On Brink (2004)
Alex Kovalev later found redemption in this series, but after Game 4, Canadiens fans were cursing his name and viewing the mid-season trade for him as a bust.
The Canadiens were down 2-1 in the series, but appeared poised to go back to Boston for Game 5 all squared up at 2-2. They protected a 3-2 lead for most of the third period, but Mike Knuble tied the game for Boston with just 30 seconds remaining.
The game went to double overtime, when Kovalev had perhaps his worst career moment. After seemingly getting slashed at his own blue line, he completely forsook the puck, shaking his wrist instead. With his head down, he bumped into teammate Sheldon Souray. With the puck loose, Glen Murray waltzed in alone on goal and put it past Theodore to give the Bruins the win and put the Habs on the brink of elimination.
We know how the rest of this series went, but this is still perhaps the most lasting image of the seven-game affair. The Canadiens appeared to be finished, but Kovalev picked up his game and the Habs eventually won the series.
7) Jacques Lemaire Scores in OT, Completes Habs’ Historic Season (1977)
It was only fitting the Canadiens would have to cap off the greatest season in their history with a final win over Boston.
The 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens won 60 games, going 60-8-12. They set an NHL record with 132 points in the regular season. They also outscored opponents by 216 goals. They had assembled perhaps the greatest team in NHL history, featuring Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson, Steve Shutt, Bob Gainey and many others.
There was little doubt the Habs would win cup no. 20 and they did. In Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against Boston, the Canadiens led 3-0 in the series and went to overtime needing one goal to win the cup. They got it when Jacques Lemaire scored to give them the 2-1 win and write another chapter in their 70s dynasty.
6) Bruins Bust the Ghosts. Finally Beat the Habs (1988)
The Bruins finally ended years of frustration in 1988, finally knocking off Montreal after losing the past 18 playoff series against their arch rival. Their last playoff series win against the Habs was back in 1943.
That meant since the arrival of Maurice Richard to the NHL, the Bruins had not beaten them when it mattered.
Finally things changed for Boston in 1988. After losing Game 1 at the Forum, the Bruins stormed back for four straight wins in the Adams Division Final. The Bruins put the Habs away at the Forum in Game 5 with a 4-1 win, which made it all that much sweeter for Boston. Since this series win, the Bruins have taken seven of 11 series against Montreal, way more than anything pre 1988.
In any great rivalry, each side has to get their digs in, and this 1988 win shifted the tide.
5) Elmer Lach Gives Habs Their First in the 50s (1953)
There’s no way around it; the Canadiens owned the Bruins for decades. Four decades separated the Bruins from series victories against Montreal and one crushing defeat came in 1953.
The Bruins had knocked off the defending champion Detroit Red Wings in the semifinals and all that stood in the way of Boston was the one team they couldn’t solve; the Canadiens.
The trend continued, as the Candiens won the first cup of the 50s. In Game 5, three scoreless periods forced overtime, with the Habs one goal away from a Stanley Cup. Just 82 seconds in, Maurice Richard set up line-mate Elmer Lach for the deciding goal, giving the Canadiens their seventh Stanley Cup.
4) Oh José! Theodore Robs Guerin, Caps Upset
The Bruins seemed poised to erase a 30-year drought in 2002. They finished with 101 points, first in the Eastern Conference and had a roster loaded with talent. Bill Guerin, Martin Lapointe, Joe Thornton, Glen Murray and Sergei Samsonov (remember when he was good?) The Canadiens squeaked into the playoffs with 87 points as the no. 8 seed because of Jose Theodore’s Hart Trophy season. He proved why he was the winner come playoff time.
The Canadiens split their first four games with Boston, but the Bruins appeared to have the momentum tilted in their favour, taking Game 4 by a score of 5-2. Kyle McLaren also injured one of the Habs’ most dangerous players in Richard Zednik.
Theodore took the Habs on his back, stopping 43 of 44 Boston shots in Game 5 for a 2-1 win. He did it again in Game 6, with 34 saves in a 2-1 win. One stands out the most.
With the Habs clinging to a 2-1 third period lead in Game 6, Bill Guerin got a loose puck in the crease and was staring at a wide open net. Theodore miraculously twisted his body and stopped the puck with his blocker, keeping it out of the net. It remains one of the best saves in playoff history. Boston couldn’t find the equalizer and the upset was complete. Boston’s amazing season was undone and Theodore just had his finest hour.
3) Seventh Heaven: Nathan Horton Ends Amazing Series
For the Bruins to end their 39-year Stanley Cup drought, it was destined they would have to get by Montreal.
Boston fell behind 2-0 in the series, before taking three straight, including two overtime goals. The Canadiens mustered a win in Montreal to force a seventh game.
The Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Game 7 but the Canadiens fought back to a 2-2 tie going into the third period. The Bruins again got a lead, 3-2, but P.K. Subban fired home a rocket with under two minutes left to force overtime.
Boston finally put away their injury-plagued rivals, when Nathan Horton blasted a shot home from the high slot. Boston took the game and the series 4-3 and rode that wave all the way to the Stanley Cup. The series was as close as you could get. To think how different things would be for Boston if that Game 7 had gone the other way. Cam Neely likely would’ve cleaned house, firing both Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien, but instead the Bruins are now set up to be perennial contenders for the foreseeable future.
2) The Comeback: Canadiens Stun Bruins With 7-5 Win
This was supposed to be the year the Bruins finally skated by the Canadiens and the heavily favoured Bruins appeared to be on their way. They had taken Game 1 in their first-round series and were up 5-1 in Game 2. Ken Dryden then began to work his magic.
The rookie sensation shut the door and the Habs staged their greatest playoff comeback. The Habs scored six unanswered goals to win the game 7-5. They went on to win the series in seven games and eventually won the Stanley Cup.
The Bruins would remain haunted by the Canadiens throughout the 70s while the Habs won six cups in the decade. The most horrific moment for Boston would come at the very end of that decade.
1) Six Boston Skaters; Four Straight Stanley Cups
Perhaps still the most gut-wrenching loss in Boston Bruins history. After a decade of dominance from Montreal and a dynasty, the Bruins finally seemed set to slay the mighty Habs.
The feisty B’s had the Montreal Forum stunned in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals. With four minutes remaining in a 3-3 hockey game, Rick Middleton gave the Bruins a 4-3 lead and the Habs’ dynasty was about to end. The Bruins then gave the Canadiens the extra chance they needed.
Boston was caught with too many men on the ice with just 2:34 remaining. One rule in sports is that great teams will make you pay if you give them life. Guy Lafleur did just that blasting a one-timer past Gilles Gilbert to tie the game at 4. Yvon Lambert finished the job in overtime, as his goal gave the Habs a 5-4 win and the team went on to win their fourth straight Stanley Cup.
Finishes like that between rivals don’t get much sweeter for the winner and don’t get any more agonizing for the loser.
It’s one of those rivalries that’s destined to go on forever.