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The Origin and Long History of the Canadiens-Bruins Rivalry


Robert L note: Since this article first appeared in April of 2009, the Bruins and Canadiens were about to meet for a 32nd time, resulting in a four game Boston sweep.

There is no rivalry in NHL hockey quite like the one between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.

As the Bruins and Habs have met each other more often than any two teams in the regular season and playoffs, the rivalry is considered to be the most bitter in NHL hockey history. For a long time, it has also been regarded as one of the most one sided.

The Canadiens and Bruins have met 31 times in the NHL playoffs, and all signs are pointing to a 32nd meeting this spring.

In regular season play, the rivals have met 699 times, with Montreal holding the edge in games won by a 334 to 262 margin. There were 103 ties between the teams before games were settled with overtime and shootout wins. Six of the 262 Boston wins came via shootouts, with Montreal winning four in the new format. The Canadiens have outscored Boston 2123 to 1853 in those 699 games.


In post season play, the teams have met 152 times, with Montreal winning 92 and Boston taking 60. The Canadiens have won 24 of 31 playoff rounds, including 18 in a row from 1946 to 1987. Thirteen times in club history, the Canadiens have gone on to win the Stanley Cup after meeting the Bruins in the playoffs.

Hockey fans today would be surprised to learn that the Montreal Canadiens played a large part in the creation of the Boston Bruins and the spreading of NHL hockey into major U.S. markets.

In the mid 1920s, the Canadiens were owned by a trio of men, led by Leo Dandurand, who was best known for his promotional abilities at the time, more so than his hockey resume. Dandurand had long worked the horse-racing and boxing circuits, and he knew how to sell a product. Looking to spread the NHL stateside, Dandurand talked up his hockey club's "Flying Frenchmen" mystique, the speed and beauty of the sport, and its physical nature, and he garnered much interest in hockey south of the Canadian border. Americans became curious of hockey men with exotic names such as Howie Morenz and Aurele Joliat. Little did they know that these men of German and Swiss descent spoke nary a word of french.

Dandurand took the club on an exhibition game tour of certain big U.S. markets, and scored the intended coup. Bostonians, with an initial glance at Morenz and the Canadiens talents were sold on the pro game. Soon after that exhibition, owner Charles F. Adams stepped up and applied for a franchise for Boston. Infamous prohibition bootlegger Bill Dwyer followed suit, adding a team that came to be known as the New York Americans the following year. The New York Rangers, Detroit Cougars (Red Wings), Pittsburgh Pirates, and Chicago Blackhawks soon propped the NHL from four teams into a two country league, with American and Canadian divisions.


The financial constraints of the 1930s Great Depression would eventually whittle the league down to what would become known as the Original Six teams. As history often belongs to most recent historian, fans of hockey likely do not know that the NHL intended it to be the Original Ten.

The 1925 Stanley Cup, won by the Victoria Cougars (the future Red Wings franchise), would turn out to be the last time a non - NHL squad would capture the trophy. Over the next sixteen NHL seasons, the Bruins (3), Rangers (3), Red Wings (2), and Blackhawks (2) would win a total of ten Stanley Cups.

Heated rivalries would be born of the six teams that remained after 1941, and the battles between the Canadiens and Bruins across the eras have become legendary.

Not long after their formation in 1924-25, the Bruins became a powerhouse by the decade's end. By their fifth season in 1928-29, they were Stanley Cup champions, boasting a lineup that looked like an early Hockey Hall of Fame roll call. Defending their first championship with players such as 43 goal scorer Cooney Weiland and 41 goal man Dit Clapper, the Art Ross coached Bruins were a Stanley Cup afterthought until running into a Canadiens team that shut them down, allowing only three goals in the best of three final.

The Bruins and Habs would meet again the following season, and it was at this time that the seeds of the great rivalry began to be sown. Despite offensive stars such as Howie Morenz, Aurele Joliat and Johnny "Black Cat" Gagnon, the Canadiens focused their efforts on neutralizing the Bruins. Boston, who had branded their game on the exciting skill of players much like as Morenz, were now being thwarted and rendered inefficient by their like, and it created hostilities that have never been extinguished between the teams.

The game of NHL hockey was in full evolution at the time. Several changes in the rules of the game seemed directed at the early dominance of the Bruins and Canadiens, offensively and defensively. When Boston were scoring a record number of goals in the late 1920s, puck passing rules regarding offsides were tinkered with in order to temper the perceived aberration. After Canadiens netminder George Hainsworth registered 22 shutouts in 44 games, rules were altered to open the game up. The rule changes seemed to fire the rivalry, and accusations directed at the originators proclaiming change was needed flew from camp to camp.


After the Canadiens won their first back to back Cups in 1930 and 1931, the Habs and Bruins rivalry was given a douse of cold water by a Depression that almost wiped out the Montreal franchise. Sharing the city's fanbase with the Montreal Maroons came close to causing the Canadiens extinction by the end of the decade. By 1938, the Canadiens were on life support, just as the Bruins were about to hit their stride as a franchise.

As the Canadiens club tailspinned into an NHL doormat, Boston would win Cups in 1939 and 1941. By 1943, the Canadiens were beginning to look like the NHL's team of the future. Now coached by Dick Irvin, the Canadiens could boast of young talents such as Maurice Richard, Elmer Lach, Bill Durnan and captain Toe Blake.


The Bruins could have cared less. They met the Canadiens in the 1943 semi-final, and sent the Canadiens vacationing after five game. It would be the last time in 44 years that the Bruins would hold an upper hand. The Canadiens would regroup to win their first Stanley Cup in 13 seasons in 1944, and two seasons later would serve the Bruins their own five game ousting on the way to the franchise's sixth Cup.


Boston would suffer 18 consecutive playoffs defeats to Montreal between 1944 and 1988. Several Habs dynasties were built during that span, as the Bruins took their turn being league doormats for much longer than they would have liked.

Most of those series were one sided affairs on the Canadiens behalf, but Boston first took the Canadiens to the seven game limit in 1952. A heroic goal, by a semi-conscious Rocket Richard on the Bruins Sugar Jim Henry, put the Habs in a final they would lose to Detroit.


From the mid 1950s until the late 1960s, the Canadiens became hockey's most dominant club. Between 1955 and 1969, the Canadiens would meet Boston five times in the post season, along path of nine Cups titles.


In 1971, the Bruins, powered by defenseman Bobby Orr's shattering of records, and Phil Esposito's 76 goal season, were unquestionable favorites over the Canadiens, 24 points back in the standings. Boston had scored 108 goals more that season, but an unknown goalie named Ken Dryden - a former Cornell University puckstopper - foiled the Bruins plans. When the series was settled, Esposito was so mesmerized and dumbfounded at Dryden's prowess in stopping him, that he described the goalie as having "arms like a giraffe". When it was noted to Esposito that giraffes were in fact short armed and better known for their long necks, it demonstrated the extent of his flustered state.


There were no Bruins and Canadiens encounters in 1970 and 1972, seasons in which Boston last won Cups.

The late 1970s set up the best Canadiens and Bruins battles on record. For a three year succession, both Boston and Montreal were equal aspirants to the Stanley Cup. Without Orr and Esposito on scene, the Bruins had built themselves into the most feared of foes. They had scoring, toughness, defense, and character in spades. All that lie in their path to the Cup were the Canadiens.


From 1977 to 1979, the Bruins gained ground on Montreal. Each season and each playoff saw Boston take an extra chink off the Canadiens armour. By the 1979 semi-finals, the Bruins looked poised for a win that would hardly be regarded as an upset.

Leading Montreal 4-3 in the final few minutes in the ultimate of games sevens, Bruins coach Don Cherry committed the most notorious coaching screw-up of all time. With the Habs desperate to tie the game, the Bruins were caught with too many men on the ice. Several seconds and a Guy Lafleur slapper later, the game was tied and heading to overtime. Yvon Lambert clinched the win for Montreal in the extra frame, and the Canadiens went on to a fourth successive Stanley Cup.


The late 1970s Bruins - a great team built on the talents of stars such as Jean Ratelle, Brad Park and Rick Middleton - deserved a better fate.

The Montreal dynasty ended in 1980, and while the Canadiens began to flounder in the post season for a string of years, the Bruins retooled. It seemed like the Canadiens had hit the nadir of their existence, when they finished with a 35-40-5 record in 1983-84.

The Bruins were in a youthful arc as the 1984 playoffs loomed, having built a team with defenseman Raymond Bourque as a cornerstone. Late in the season, the Canadiens fired coach Bob Berry, and brought in former great Jacques Lemaire to run the club. It didn't help, the Habs were a disastrous mess. Late in the season, a desperate S.O.S. brought in minor league stopper Steve Penney, who played well despite losing all four starts. With little to lose, Lemaire gave Penney the playoff starter's role, and Penney did to to the 49 win strong Bruins what Dryden did to Boston 13 years earlier. To this day, the Canadiens three game sweep of that Bruins powerhouse still confounds.


Penney and the Habs developed enough thrust behind them, that they took the four time Cup champion Islanders to a two game deficit, before running the tank dry and losing four straight to end their miracle. Penney would turn the trick one more time in the 1985 playoffs before losing his mystique. Much to the Bruins dismay, Penney handed the torch to one Patrick Roy.

Roy, for all initial perceptions, looked more likely to be better suited to making the all-time flaky goalie team upon meeting the Bruins in the 1986 playoffs. With a habit of allowing one weak goal per game and propensity for crediting superstitions for his composure, Roy somehow psyched Boston out in three games straight, on the way to leading the Canadiens to a 23rd Stanley Cup.

It would be the start of a legendary record setting career for Roy - a future Hall-of-Famer - but he would rarely undo the Bruins as quietly in coming years.


Roy and the Canadiens would face Boston in the post season for another six successive tries from 1987 to 1992, and it was in this era that the Bruins solved the Canadiens better than ever. The goalie known as Saint Patrick still found ways to stymie the Bruins in 1987 and 1989, but it is safe to say that no team owned Roy as Boston did from 1988 to 1994.

Cam Neely proved to be Roy's ultimate nemesis in that span. He might as well have has "Habs Killer" spelled out in letters over his number 8 numeral on his Bruins jersey. Neely, along with defenseman Bourque and goaltender Andy Moog, thrust past almost all foes in the late 1980s.

Against an Edmonton Oilers dynasty in 1988 and 1990, the Bruins reached the Stanley Cup final only to fall - a great team for the wrong time.

The Habs and Bruins rivalry took a respite from 1995 to 2001.

In 2002, the Bruins, strong from a 101 point season, were pitted against the fourth place Habs. With Montreal up 2-1 after three games, Boston defenseman Kyle McLaren took aim for forward Richard Zednik's head, and put the Canadiens best player on a stretcher and out of the playoffs in game four. Zednik had 4-4-8 totals after 4 games, playing on a line with Doug Gilmour and Donald Audette. The cheapshot united the Habs, and they regrouped to win the final two games and the series.


The teams met again in 2004, and the Bruins jumped to a commanding 3-1 lead in games, before the Canadiens came back to life. Mike Ribeiro's antics set the Canadiens up for ridicule early in the round and a combined gaffe by Alex Kovalev and Sheldon Souray in overtime in game looked to all but seal a Bruins victory. The only trouble was, that the Canadiens were playing better than Boston were, and they believed in their chances. After rallying to win game 5, the Habs shut down the Bruins and won the series in seven games. It was the only time in the Canadiens history that they won a series after being down 3-1.

Last season, it was the Canadiens in the role of favorite for the first time in years. Leading 3-1 in games, the Canadiens almost lost their grip. A pair of bad outings in games 5 and 6 saw a hungry Bruins team fight back and tie the series. Montreal regained their focus in game 7, winning 5-0 to take the series 4-3.

A chronological look at 31 playoff rounds:

1928-29 Canadiens (22-7-15) lose semi-final 3-0 to Boston (26-13-5), who go on to the Stanley Cup.

1929-30 Canadiens (21-14-9) defeat Boston (38-5-1) 2-0 in Stanley Cup final.

1930-31 Canadiens (26-10-8) defeat Boston (28-10-6) 3-2 in semi-final and go on to win the Stanley Cup.

1942-43 Canadiens (19-19-12) lose semi-final 4-1 to Boston (24-17-9).

1945-46 Canadiens (28-17-5) defeat Boston (24-18-8) 4-1 in Stanley Cup final.

1946-47 Canadiens (34-16-10) defeat Boston (26-23-11) 4-1 in semi-final.

1951-52 Canadiens (36-26-10) defeat Boston (25-29-16) 4-3 in semi-final.

1952-53 Canadiens (28-23-19) defeat Boston (28-29-13) 4-1 in Stanley Cup final.

1953-54 Canadiens (35-24-11) defeat Boston (32-28-10) 4-0 in semi-final.

1954-55 Canadiens (41-18-11) defeat Boston (23-26-21) 4-1 in semi-final.

1956-57 Canadiens (35-23-12) defeat Boston (34-24-12) 4-1 in Stanley Cup final.

1957-58 Canadiens (43-17-10) defeat Boston (27-28-15) 4-2 in Stanley Cup final.

1967-68 Canadiens (42-22-10) defeat Boston (37-27-10) 4-0 in quarter-final and go on to win the Stanley Cup.

1968-69 Canadiens (46-19-11) defeat Boston (42-18-16) 4-2 in semi-final and go on to win the Stanley Cup.

1970-71 Canadiens (42-23-13) defeat Boston (57-14-7) 4-3 in quarter-final and go on to win the Stanley Cup.

1976-77 Canadiens (60-8-12) defeat Boston (49-23-8) 4-0 in Stanley Cup final.

1977-78 Canadiens (59-10-11) defeat Boston (51-18-11) 4-2 in Stanley Cup final.

1978-79 Canadiens (52-17-11) defeat Boston (43-23-14) 4-3 in semi-final and go on to win the Stanley Cup.

1983-84 Canadiens (35-40-5) defeat Boston (49-25-6) 3-0 in Division semi-final.

1984-85 Canadiens (41-27-12) defeat Boston (49-25-6) 3-2 in Division semi-final.

1985-86 Canadiens (40-33-7) defeat Boston (37-31-12) 3-0 in Division semi-final and go on to win the Stanley Cup.

1986-87 Canadiens (41-29-10) defeat Boston (39-34-7) 4-0 in Division semi-final.

1987-88 Canadiens (45-22-13) lose to Boston (44-30-6) 4-1 in Division semi-final.

1988-89 Canadiens (53-18-9) defeat Boston (37-29-14) 4-1 in Division final.

1989-90 Canadiens (41-28-11) lose to Boston (46-25-9) 4-1 in Division final.

1990-91 Canadiens (39-30-11) lose to Boston (44-24-12) 4-3 in Division final.

1991-92 Canadiens (41-28-11) lose to Boston (36-32-12) 4-0 in Division final.

1993-94 Canadiens (41-29-14) lose to Boston (42-29-13) 4-3 in Conference quarter-final.

2001-02 Canadiens (36-31-12-3) defeat Boston (43-24-6-9) 4-2 in Conference quarter-final.

2003-04 Canadiens (41-30-7-4) defeat Boston (41-19-15-7) 4-3 in Conference quarter-final.

2007-08 Canadiens (47-25-10) defeat Boston (41-29-12) 4-3 in Conference quarter-final.

Certain images from this post from the Canadiens official site.

More on the rivalry:

National Hockey League Rivalries [Wikipedia]
Bruins, Canadiens keeping it clean as Game 6 looms [Yahoo! Sports]
Neely enjoys revived Habs, Bruins rivalry [The Windsor Star]