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The Bruins and Canadiens Have Been Battling on Hockey's Biggest Stages for Nearly a Century

The Winter Classic in Foxboro will be the 910th matchup on the ice between Boston and Montreal.
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The 1929-30 Boston Bruins posted the best winning percentage (.875) in the history of the nascent National Hockey League. They were led by a 5'7'', 150-pound center named Cooney Weiland, who scored 43 goals in 44 games that season. Boston seemed like a sure thing to win the Stanley Cup, but they were overrun by the underdog Montreal Canadiens in the finals, losing two games to zero. The upset ignited what would become the NHL's fiercest rivalry.


For almost a century, the Bruins and Canadiens have won and lost on hockey's grandest stages. There have been innocent scrums and stick-breaking, bloody brawls; Cups claimed and cops called. Oh, and somewhere in all that there has been great hockey. The rivalry has cemented the legacies of multiple Hall of Famers and outlasted two iconic rinks, the Boston Garden and the Montreal Forum.

No two teams in the history of professional hockey have played more games than the Canadiens and the Bruins. This Winter Classic on New Year's Day at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, will be the 910th time that the two Original Six teams skate together.

Read More: Throwback Thursday: The Shoe Brawl, or When the Bruins Fought Everybody

"[Familiarity] breeds contempt," said Bob Beers, who started and ended his NHL career with the Bruins, and is now the color commentator for The Sports Hub 98.5 in Boston. "Think about how many times they faced each other in so many big games.

"When I played, the guys who'd been there before me didn't even need to say anything [about the importance of beating Montreal]."

Like the tempers of fans and players, the results have been mercurial. There were periods of Montreal dominance: from 1946 through 1987, the Canadiens won 18 consecutive playoff series over the Bruins. Then again, they didn't just dominate Boston; they dominated everybody, and also won 18 Stanley Cups in that span.


"I hated Montreal growing up because they kicked our asses throughout the entirety of the '70s and well into the '80s," said Brian McGonagle, who has been a credentialed Bruins reporter for Barstool Sports Boston since 2010-11. "They were just so goddamn stacked … The B's were always a notch or two below."

Then, in the late '80s and early '90s, Boston started winning. Between '84 and '92, the teams met every year in the playoffs. At one point, the Bruins won four series out of five. Until then, Montreal didn't reciprocate Boston's hatred. You don't hate someone you constantly beat. A plow doesn't fear snow. The rivalry has intensified in the 2000s, as the two teams have met six more times in the playoffs. Montreal has won four, including the most recent series in 2014. The Bruins, however, won the one trophy that has eluded Montreal since 1993: Lord Stanley's Cup.

The next game between the Habs and the Bruins will be their first in a football stadium. Photo by Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports.

"Modern-day rivalries will never be the same as the old days when it comes to the players, but I feel it has intensified for the fans," said Jared Book, managing editor at SB Nation's Montreal Canadiens blog, Eyes on the Prize. "We couldn't hear about [Bruins television broadcaster and homer] Jack Edwards or things like that back then and I feel things like that adds to the annoyance. Not to mention social media."

The main point of contention may be the contrast in styles. On the ice, the Canadiens play like water bugs, darting rapidly across the ice surface; the Bruins are their plodding antithesis. To the Montreal fans, the Bruins are the bullies over the border; to Boston fans, the Canadiens would prefer to fall from a phantom hit than absorb a real one.


Both fan bases believe their team plays the game The Right Way, an attitude that, from one side of the border, can be taken as an affront.

"The sport is Canadian," said Beers. "There is just the mentality that, 'This is our sport. This is the way it's supposed to be played.' The contrasting styles lend itself to the great rivalry."

Between the players, he insists, there's always been the highest level of respect.

"How can you not respect [Bobby] Orr or [Jean] Beliveau?

"I know that the fans still have that rivalry and feeling of two teams don't like each other," Beers continued. "But as a broadcaster, I love going to Montreal and watching a game. I loved going there as a player. There's a different feeling when the Bruins come into town. Even when Montreal has the Bruins' number, there's a buzz around town."

For the casual hockey fan interested in cheap shots, embellishments, and good old-fashioned glove-dropping, there's enough dramatics to fill the theater districts in both cities.

A Google search for "Boston Bruins Montreal Canadiens fights" shows results ranging from recent bench-clearing brawls and goalie fights to the grainy, static narrated free-for-alls of an older vintage. The names on the jerseys have changed over the years, but the commonality is the unique fan fever that accompanies grown men hitting each other with their fists.

Sometimes fists aren't the only weapons. In a March 2011 game, Zdeno Chara checked Max Pacioretty into a divider between the two benches, giving him a concussion and a cracked vertebra. Montreal police fielded calls asking for Chara's arrest. Amazingly, this wasn't some overzealous, Millennial over-reaction—there was precedence. In 1955, Boston Police sought to arrest Maurice "Rocket" Richard after he broke his stick while beating a Boston player. Richard's Montreal teammates barricaded the locker room door to prevent Boston Police from entering.


"There's going to be questionable hits no matter who you're playing," Beers told me. "When you play a meaningful game or series, it'll happen; when it's Boston and Montreal, it gets magnified. The Bruins in some ways are viewed more as the villains—some fan driven, some media driven—but the players don't get overly caught up."

He added, "The cops getting called was silly."

Aside from Chara, the principle object of disdain for Montreal fans is perpetual pain in the ass Brad Marchand, who could administer animal CPR to a dying baby snow owl on the banks of the St. Lawrence River and still be booed in the Bell Centre.

P.K. Subban, the major recipient of Boston resentment, is so reviled that not even donating $10 million to the Montreal Children's Hospital, which he did this fall, would endear him to Bruins fans. Subban, unfortunately, was the central figure of one of the uglier fan incidents of this rivalry, in 2014. After a Subban slap shot scorched passed Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask in the second overtime of Game One of the Eastern Conference playoffs, some took to social media and unleashed a torrent of terrible Twitter racism.

Once again, the Canadiens and Bruins are nearly neck and neck in the standings. Photo by Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

As usual, the people with the dumbest things to say tended to be the ones speaking the loudest.

"Certainly the worst [side of the rivalry] is driven by very few people," said Beers. "[The racism] doesn't represent the majority of people. It ruins the experience for true fans and tarnishes a great game or series."


"Fans [can] take everything too seriously," Book told me. "Fights in stands, there's no reason for that…. And there's not one side more to blame than the other…. Enjoy the game, hate each other's teams, but don't make it personal. It gives everything a bad name. Most fans are above this which is great."

Before the 2013-14 season, the NHL realigned, and Boston and Montreal landed in the Atlantic Division. The realignment ensures that hockey fans will continue to see the Canadiens-Bruins rivalry play out in the regular season, but especially in the playoffs. Neither city would want it any other way.

"In some sports, the 'hate' is kind of fake," said McGonagle. "But in hockey, it's still real. Just watch the playoffs. It's no more real than Montreal and Boston."

"These two teams can play outstanding hockey," said Book. "Of the last five [postseason] series, four have gone seven games. That's what hockey is all about."

"The passion is there all the time," added Beers. "I hope we're watching these two teams play meaningful hockey against one another for a long time."