By Joey Russo
Knifing through the neutral zone, Brendan Gallagher gains momentum across Boston’s blueline, tailed closely by Greg Campbell, a foot race ensues as the Bruins counter-attack with resistance. Gallagher sensing pressure whisks a horizontal pass to Dany Briere, who, in turn, cuts to Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask’s left taking Noris Trophy finalist Zdeno Chara with him. With no angle whatsoever to shoot from Breiere attempts to feed a trailing Thomas Plekanec for a wide-open net, in doing so pinballs the puck off Chara and past a stunned Rask. The TD Garden scoreboard reads 3-1 Habs late in game seven, ultimately marking the conclusion of the Bruins 2013-14 “revenge tour.” As it had so many times prior throughout history at the hands of the Canadiens in a frustrating do or die affair.
Six years have passed since that woeful night on Causeway Street, and whether or not we get playoff hockey during this summer, the parallels of then and this past campaign are freakishly similar. For starters, both teams are coming off excruciatingly painful losses with the Stanley Cup on the line the summer prior. Tuukka Rask’s stellar regular season all but makes him a shoo-in for the Vezina trophy, and just as in 2013-14, Boston secured the Presidents’ Trophy convincingly. The main differences include an explosive 48 goal campaign from David Pastrnak and a global pandemic halting professional sports for the 2nd time in 101 years.
Under a more traditional playoff format, the Habs would have placed 6th in the wild card standings, well on the outside looking in on the playoffs. Due to rather ornate circumstances, a second lease on life has been granted. Their consultation prize is a best of five play-in series against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburg Penguins. For a market that doesn’t just expect success from their hockey team, they demand it. It would appear to be a win/win in the sense that a young developing Canadiens team has an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have to cut their teeth on playoff hockey.
Boston, on the other hand, was crowned the NHL’s regular-season champions but now must partake in a round-robin style mini-tournament alongside Tampa, Washington and Philadephia to determine to seed 1-4. Once that, along with the subsequent play in rounds, is complete a true to form 16 team playoff will begin. Simple, right?
Dusting off my tinfoil hat, join me in some hypothesizing. Let start with Montreal; for any of this to work, they would need to win their best of five against Pittsburg. All the more difficult when you consider their only consistency was their inconsistency. Ranking 18th in the league for goals for at 212 and 23rd in goals against with 221. Fighting for their playoff lives, they posted a 9-10 record from February 1 to their final regular-season game on March 10. Yet much like their counterpart over a half-decade prior, this team will only go as far as Carey Price is willing to carry them. For argument’s sake, let us imagine he does get them past Pittsburg. With a 31-31-9 record, Montreal would move into playoff contention to face the number four seed in the east.
While an exact round-robin schedule is not public knowledge as of yet, it’s safe to assume that Boston would face its other three counterparts twice. Speaking of consistencies, let’s say the Bruins lose every game in a shootout and end up as the fourth seed. Presidents’ Trophy winner ending up in fourth place? History, indeed, will be made.
Thus our impractical first-round matchup. You are free to remove your tinfoil hat now. Boston will meet Montreal for the first time in far too long in what is widely considered to end up being either a seven-game series or another best of five. Not to say this rivalry has wained tremendously, but to say it burns with the ferocity of that in 2007-2015 would be a drastic misunderstanding of the facts. The main contributor has to be the supporting cast on both sides. Thornton, Lucic, Horton, Thomas, Markov, Subban, Weise, Plekanec, Pacioretty, Hamrlik, and Komisarek are all long gone, and their presence was a massive influence in what the rivalry meant during the period mentioned above.
If a return to play is ever instituted, the atmosphere will pale in comparison to that of a ruckus crowd of 20,000 people going ballistic. Albeit a stretch, but if Montreal were to cross paths with Boston the carnage, crowd or not, that would be must-watch television. There aren’t many rivalries in hockey which pin 96 years of bad blood. Boston returns a cast ripe with players from 2014, and Montreal is stocked with young additions to what will likely make up a significant role in the play called hatred when this thing reaches its bicentennial.