There are rivals, as we call them, and then there are loathsome, unreasonable, simply unreachable enemies. In the case of the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, there really are no fences to mend, no gaps to bridge, no differences to respect. There is their way. And there is your way.
Never the twain shall meet.
And so as the Bruins and Canadiens begin their best-of-7 series tonight at the TD Garden in what amounts to the Eastern Conference semifinals and the Stanley Cup quarterfinals, remember this: under the ownership of John Henry, the Red Sox have become more like the New York Yankees than anyone would like to admit. The Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are defined, at least in part, by the friendly rivalry between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Bill Belichick came to the Patriots from the New York Jets, and New York, more than once, has sought to build the Jets in the Patriots’ image.
But the Bruins and Canadiens? There is simply no overlap. Not really. They are bleu, blanc, et rouge, and you are black and gold. They are sleek, skilled, artistic in nature. You are big, tough, workmanlike. Arguably the best player in Montreal history is appropriately named "The Flower", at the very least a linguistic contrast to the monosyllabic defenseman who leads a long list of players defining the Big, Bad Bruins.
Orr. Schmidt. Shore.
“It's just natural for me, being here seven years now, and being a part of this organization, you just naturally learn to hate the Montreal Canadiens,” Bruins forward Milan Lucic told reporters this week. “And the battles that we've had with them over the last couple of years has definitely made you hate them.”
In the fable, after all, the scorpion stings the frog simply because it is his nature.
The Canadiens believe in their way, naturally. So do the Bruins. Over the decades the two teams have played, their identities have changed little, if at all. Montreal has long believed in speed the way the Bruins believe in side, though each side often possesses just enough of the other.
So the Bruins this week have once against been defending their seeming lack of speed. The Canadiens have been defending their seeming lack of toughness. The Bruins sometimes flail on their skates and the Canadiens often flop off theirs, each side instinctively pointing at the order with a look of amusement or disgust.
In this specific meeting, this year, even the stakes are dueling. A win would mean more to the Canadiens, who have won just one championship since 1986. A loss would be more devastating for the Bruins, who were prohibitive Stanley Cup favorites entering this NHL postseason. By the estimate of some odds makers, the Bruins were a 13-to-10 bet to win the Eastern Conference, a 7-to-2 bet to win the Cup. No other team was really even close, a rather staggering revelation of just how far the Bruins have come during what the French might call a renaissance.
Tonight, after roughly a week of hype, the Bruins and the Canadiens finally take to the ice. Games 1 and 2 will be played in Boston, Games 3 and 4 in Montreal. What happens beyond that is anybody’s guess, save for the obvious elements that exist most every time these two meet.
There will be anger. There will be frustration. There will be bitterness.
And with a trip to the Eastern Conference finals at stake, there almost certainly will be blood.