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The Bruins-Canadiens Rivalry is Toast

Nov 11, 2023; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand (63) splits Montreal Canadiens defenseman Justin Barron (52) and teammate forward Alex Newhook (15) during the first period at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Last Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens scored a come-from-behind overtime win over the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre, with the young Habs handing the cruising Bruins their third defeat of the season.

The two teams will meet again this Saturday, this time at TD Garden in Boston.

There were times in the not-so-distant past that two Bruins-Canadiens game in the span of a week would have been a veritable powder keg, with a near guarantee of entertaining shenanigans.

Nowadays, however, Bruins-Canadiens games are about as enticing as a mid-February Bruins game against Columbus: it sure is…a hockey game!

The rivalry is dead. Long live the rivalry.

Ebbs, flows, and too few villains

The truth is, the juice left this rivalry a long time ago.

The players will still say the right things: “these games mean more, there’s nothing like Bruins-Canadiens, I’m serious, guys, these are special, I really mean it.”

But no one buys it.

Even during last Saturday’s game, there was a brief glimmer of hope: a scrum (of sorts) around Jeremy Swayman’s crease that led to Swayman gesturing in the general direction of Montreal goalie Samuel Montembeault.

Tim Thomas vs. Carey Price Redux?! No. It ended there, and the game carried on without incident.

ZZZZZZzzzzzZZZzzz. Another exciting Bruins-Canadiens affair.

Some of this fizzling is to be expected, as the two teams have had very different fortunes in recent years.

To be fair, both have won the same number of Stanley Cups this decade (0) and both have reached the same number of Cup Finals in the past five years (1, though Montreal’s was during the fluke COVID season).

The Canadiens have been bad for years, missing the playoffs in four of the last six seasons. The Bruins have ranged from good to elite during that same stretch.

It’s not uncommon for these franchises to have ups and downs that coincide in opposite fashions, and it’s understandable for some of the fanfare to ease as one team peaks during the other team’s valley.

The Bruins’ recent success has added some more heat to other rivalries as well, including those with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes, and (more recently) the Florida Panthers.

What it really boils down to, however, is a lack of combustible characters on either side.

From a Bruins fan’s perspective, Montreal’s current roster induces a big “meh” when it comes to inducing ire.

This isn’t to say Montreal has no good players; rather that the players they do have are fairly standard in terms of rivalry-inducing.

Brendan Gallagher is still there and is still a pain in the ass, but…that’s about it. I can’t get juiced up about Alex Newhook or Tanner Pearson or Mike Matheson or Cayden Primeau.

There’s no PK Subban or Mike Komisarek or Dale Weise or Mike Ribeiro.

I miss the Kostitsyns and Tomas Plekanec’s turtleneck.

Even Canadiens fans would probably admit that there’s not a ton to rage at on the Bruins roster. Yeah, you hate Brad Marchand. Join the club.

Who else? I can’t picture many Habs fans working themselves into a sweat yelling about Charlie Coyle.

No, the truth is that Bruins-Canadiens games have just been regular games for a few years now.

You tell yourself it’s a rivalry, but…it’s OK. We know. We know.

A glimmer of nostalgia-fueled hope on the horizon

There, way off in the distance, is a tiny bit of light when it comes to this dormant rivalry.

It’s a blast from the past, but also from the present: Milan Lucic is a Boston Bruin again.

Lucic was a central figure to some of the biggest Bruins-Canadiens moments of the last 20 years.

The line brawls in 2011. The spat with Dale Weise. The time Georges Laraque followed him around the Bell Centre to try to get him to fight.

Lucic was such a powerful force in this rivalry that Alexei Emelin once tore a ligament in his knee trying to check him.

As much as Canadiens fans are irritated by Marchand, Lucic was the source of a lot more heat at the recent peak of the rivalry.

Unfortunately, Lucic is currently out with a lower-body injury and looks unlikely to return for Saturday’s game.

After Saturday, the teams don’t play again until January, another Saturday night game at TD Garden.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get some fireworks.

If not, I’ll try really hard to find something to hate about…Sean Monahan?

Save us, Milan Lucic. You’re our only hope.