The Montreal Canadiens, who won Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last night in double overtime at the TD Garden, aren't that much different than the Boston Bruins, even if fans paint a much different picture.
By Travis Barrett
I love playoff hockey.
At the same time, I hate it. I mean that.
There’s no substitute in sports for the drama of an overtime period Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and there’s no sport where “it’s a game of inches” rings more true (See: Soderberg, Carl). There’s the glory and honor of seeing your team win a game, and there’s a tangible feeling of purpose attached to each and every shot, hit and block on the ice.
There is also the yelling at nobody in particular. Although, to be fair, it’s usually the television that’s the prime target. There’s long stretches of holding your breath when the opposition has puck possession in your defensive zone, and there are all those nasty four- and (sometimes) twelve-letter words directed at people who are probably otherwise decent human beings (people NOT named Matt Cooke, for instance…) so long as their not wearing a sweater decorated with a logo other than the one sewn on 1989 Starter jacket locked in a trunk in your mom’s basement.
But what I hate the most about the playoffs is the narrow-minded, singularly-focused, holier-than-a-bottle-of-holy-water-drained-directly-from-the-River-Jordan pontificating done by hockey fans in blind defense of “their team.”
Example: Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens.
For days upon days upon days (upon more days, thanks to a couple of easy-peasy first-round victories) spent scouring the internet for coverage and insight into this Atlantic Division finals matchup, I met nothing but road blocks. Nothing but PK Subban stinks, Brad Marchand is a loser and Zdeno Chara is a criminal out there to peruse.
You’ve seen the stuff.
Perhaps the best of all was the “article” penned by a Montreal blogger which went back through decades to somehow try and “prove” that the Bruins are the biggest group of divers the NHL has ever seen. It completely ignored facts — like, for example, that Boston had by far the lowest number of power play attempts in the NHL this season — and used examples from teams three years ago (Tyler Seguin? Tim Thomas?…) as illustration of how rotten this year’s Bruins team has been.
It cavalierly ignored Subban himself dropping to the ice from an imaginary head wound when Johnny Boychuk had the gall to so much as breathe on him.
But I’m digressing …
This is all you need to know about the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry — all you need to know about any honest-to-goodness NHL rivalry today:
It takes two.
Bruins fans hate Subban. Canadiens fans hate Marchand. Bruins fans hate Plekanec and Emelin. Canadiens fans hate Chara and Lucic.
Social media is alive with debates about why Subban is a dirty player, while simply dismissing Milan Lucic and his penchant for blindside crotch shots. They talk about Marchand being willing to “drove the gloves” like it’s a badge of honor, completely ignoring that Subban has TWICE as many fights in his NHL career as Marchand does.
And it goes on and on and on, each side presenting the most one-sided arguments conceivable.
While Boston and Montreal don’t play the same systems, they do play the same style. The forechecks and defensive systems couldn’t be more dissimilar, and their power plays are entirely different animals. But the way in which they approach the game — by agitating the opposition into either penalties or mistakes — are very much parallel to one another.
Get under your skin, force you to make a mistake, capitalize on said mistake.
In many ways, though neither side will ever — EVER — admit it, they might as well be looking in a collective mirror. They are both the devil in skates and helmets, all the while pretending to be the angels the other team is not.
One thing both sides agree on — for once! — is that Thursday night’s Game 1 at TD Garden went into “instant classic” mode. Both teams excelled at doing what they wanted to do: The Bruins forced pressure and had tremendous in-zone possession and shot numbers; the Canadiens kept Carey Price out of harm’s way for most of the evening by keeping Boston’s pressure away from the middle of the ice.
The one thing neither team did was let extracurricular activity drag down an entertaining — and high-quality — hockey game. In fact, Boston’s opening-round series against Detroit (a team the Bruins, supposedly, according to the pre-series coverage, had to synthetically generate some level of resentment toward) had far more bad blood than anything we saw Thursday night.
The series is better for it; though it’s hard to imagine these two teams can play another six games and stay on their best behavior. If anybody thinks that either the Bruins or the Canadiens have somehow “won” the mental battle already, think again.
In fact, the real tests haven’t even begun yet.
But it won’t be Montreal administering the test to Boston, or Boston dropping an eight-page multiple-choice packet on Montreal. They’ll do it to each other, over and over and over again.
It’s what we love and loathe about the Stanley Cup playoffs.
And it’s why both sides are innocent. Or guilty. It just depends on which side you’re watching from, I suppose.
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