The Montreal Canadiens have had many heated rivalries in their history. Here’s a look at their top three current rivalries as they get set to face the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.
The Montreal Canadiens take on the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight. The two teams form the oldest rivalry in National Hockey League history. Both teams were original members of the league when it formed, and battled each other now for 100 years.
No two teams have played against each other more in NHL history. However, the bad blood doesn’t run quite as deep as it once did between the two historic teams. That can probably be blamed on the fact that there have been more lockouts than playoff series played by the Leafs in the past 11 years.
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Not only have Toronto struggled to put a relevant team on the ice in the last decade. Rivalries burn the brightest when teams play each other in the postseason. Toronto and Montreal, though it would be a dream matchup in the postseason, haven’t played a series against each other since 1979.
Montreal brushed aside the Leafs in that ’79 series in four straight games. They would go on to win their fourth straight Stanley Cup later that spring. Even in more recent times, the Habs have dominated the season series, winning 14 straight against their oldest rivals.
So, while the Leafs certainly are the Habs longest rival, they just don’t crack the top 3 anymore. When the two teams meet up, especially on a Saturday night, it’s always a fun game. However, the “rivalry” has been one-sided for far too long and other teams have drawn the ire of the Montreal Canadiens in recently years.
While this rivalry is dormant right now. One playoff series in the future could force it to erupt. It wouldn’t take a lot for this to become the league’s most fierce battle again. However, until the Leafs make it to the postseason, or at least win a few regular season games against the Habs, it won’t crack the top 3.
If the Maple Leafs are no longer one of the Habs top three rivals, who is? Let’s take a look.
This is a rivalry not so much built on bad blood, battles and hatred. This is a pair of teams that have recently been battling for Atlantic Division supremacy. It is a rather short-lived rivalry thus far, but a pair of recent playoff series helped to kick it into high gear.
The first playoff series came in the first round of the 2014 postseason. Though the Habs finished one point back of the Lightning and thus surrendered home-ice advantage, they won the series. In fact, they didn’t lose a game in the series.
Thanks to the heroics of Rene Bourque (seriously) the Habs swept Tampa Bay. Lightning fans believed it would have been a different series if goaltender Ben Bishop was not injured. Anders Lindback became the starting goaltender and struggled.
The Lightning got a chance to redeem themselves the very next postseason. In a second round series, Tampa Bay jumped out to a 3-0 series edge before Montreal tried to mount a near impossible comeback.
Montreal had won the division title in the regular season, just staying ahead of the Lightning by two points at season’s end. The Habs were able to force a sixth game, but fell 4-1 in the contest and were ousted by the Lightning who returned the favour from a year earlier.
There wasn’t a lot of hate and bad blood between these two teams. There were no line brawls or fisticuffs to stoke the rivalry either. However, they are ranked as the top two teams in the Atlantic Division and will likely meet for the playoff-series rubber match in the near future.
If the Lightning rivalry is built purely on two good hockey teams just playing by the rules and battling for supremacy, the Ottawa rivalry is the exact opposite. This is another division rival but games between the two teams are more likely to be a bloodbath than a display of skill.
This rivalry really heated up during the 2013 postseason. The Canadiens went into the series as the heavy favourite. They were the second seed in the Eastern Conference and were taking on the seventh seeded Sens.
Not only did the Senators win the series, they dominated the Habs in five games. Montreal was outscored 20-9 in the short series and really didn’t come close in the series.
Not only did Ottawa beat the Canadiens on the scoreboard, they unloaded on them physically as well. There was a lot of bad blood in this series. In Game One, Lars Eller was knocked unconscious by an Eric Gryba hit and was out for the series.
An Ottawa newspaper ran a story with Eller’s bloodied face on the cover and the headline “First Blood.” It didn’t go over particularly well in Montreal.
The low point in the series (there were a lot of them) came in Game 3, when a Canadiens team that was trailing 4-1 started a line brawl. It resulted in Jared Cowen, Chris Neil and Zach Smith hammering away on three Habs.
It was an embarrassing tries for the Canadiens who were supposed to be the favourite. Shots were fired in the media, on the ice and of course on social media throughout the series. Canadian teams always have a bit of a rivalry based on geography, but in 2013 the Montreal-Ottawa rivalry exploded.
The Canadiens were able to exact some revenge two years later. The teams met again in the first round of the 2015 postseason. This time, Montreal would jump out to a 3-0 series lead, putting an end to the Hamburglar hysteria and finally finished off the Sens in Game 6.
This series didn’t have quite the same bit to it as the 2013 duel. However, there was still a fair bit of controversy to keep the rival fires flaring.
In Game 1, Habs defenceman P.K. Subban was ejected for slashing Mark Stone. Habs fans felt it was too harsh of a penalty, Sens supporters wanted him suspended for the series. Bryan Murray invented the term “micro fracture” to describe Stone’s injury which just set off Montreal media and fans.
Both teams look to be on their way to playoff berths again this season. Perhaps we will finally get a third series between the two bitter rivals.
Of course, the Habs most bitter rival is the Boston Bruins. No two teams have met more in the postseason, and there have been a few recent battles to ensure the rivalry still burns white hot. Even regular season games between these two teams feel like playoff games.
There have been an astounding 34 playoff series played between these two teams, with the Habs taking 25 of them. The Habs absolutely dominated until 1988 when the Bruins finally won a series over Montreal for the first time in 24 tries. Since then, it’s been a more even battle. Ferocious, but close.
The Bruins have come out on top in seven of the past 12 series. However, the Habs pulled off two of the biggest upsets in playoff history in that time. In 2002 and again in 2004 the Bruins looked poised for a long playoff run. Both times, they fell to the Canadiens in the opening round.
Boston got some revenge during what was supposed to be a magical Habs season. The centennial season of the Canadiens in 2008-09 got off to a great start, but ended rather rocky. They were embarrassed in four straight games in the first round of the postseason, thanks to an emerging Bruins team.
Two years later, the Bruins came out victorious again. This time in agonizing fashion as a Nathan Horton shot redirected past Carey Price in overtime of the seventh game. It was the third OT win in the series for the Bruins, who didn’t look back and won their first Stanley Cup since 1972 that spring.
Their most recent meeting in the second round of the 2014 postseason was another classic. The teams traded victories through four games, and the Bruins took Game 5. Price shut the door from there as the Habs won Game 6 at home by a 4-0 score.
Game 7 in Boston was a tightly contested affair again, thanks to the strong play of Price, the Canadiens emerged victorious with a 3-1 victory. Not only are their games always exciting due to the speed and skill of the two teams, there is always bad blood between the two franchises.
Carey Price once fought Tim Thomas. Montreal fans called the police on Zdeno Chara for knocking out Max Pacioretty. Chris Nilan once started a brawl from inside the Bruins bench. The Bruins were the second best team in the league in the late 70’s but fell three straight years to the Habs dynasty led by Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Ken Dryden.
There are literally too many moments to list them all. Even in their most recent meeting, a dangerous headshot by Torey Krug knocked Andrew Shaw out of the lineup for over a month. Brendan Gallagher fought Krug in one of the least expected bouts in NHL history. Of course, in this battle anybody could fight anyone at any time.
It just goes to show that although they have a long history as rivals, there is no rivalry that is as hot right now as the one between the Canadiens and Bruins.