Bruins at loss to explain Canadiens' success in rivalry

Wednesday, 03.12.2014 / 10:48 AM
Arpon Basu  - Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- The rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins appears to exist in a vacuum.

Every metric imaginable would suggest the Bruins should dominate the Canadiens, much like they do the great majority of the NHL's 28 other teams.

Except, for some reason, they don't.

When the Canadiens play the Bruins in this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, RDS) they will do so riding a five-game winning streak against their Atlantic Division rivals.

The Bruins won the previous five games against the Canadiens before the start of the current streak, but since the start of the 2011-12 season Montreal has had the upper hand in the matchup.

The Canadiens are 7-4-1 against the Bruins over the past three seasons while their record against the 28 other teams of the League over the same span is 88-69-27, a winning percentage of .478. The Bruins, on the other hand, are 114-54-14 against the rest of the League over the same span, a winning percentage of .626, yet they are 5-6-1 against Montreal.

How can this be?

The Bruins, for the most part, don't know.

"I can't answer that, but I can tell you one thing: I don't think we've played well against them," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Have they given us trouble or have we given ourselves trouble? That's the thing we've got to figure out here. In my mind, it's not to take any credit away from them, but I'm going to talk more about this year and the game in Boston (a 4-1 Canadiens win on Jan. 30), we just weren't playing well at all. Hopefully [Wednesday] we'll paint a different picture, and if we play the way we've played lately I think it's going to be a great game."

The Bruins arrive in Montreal riding a five-game winning streak and the Canadiens just completed a 1-3-0 road trip through California and Arizona. Montreal is missing its best player, goaltender Carey Price, while Boston appears to be rounding into Stanley Cup Playoff form with 22 goals for and nine against over its current win streak.

But again, those external factors appear to have no bearing on the outcome of these games, and likely won't again Wednesday.

"I guess it would add some confidence if we were to beat them," Bruins forward Gregory Campbell said. "I think they match up well against us. The games are usually pretty close. It is important from our point of view to finally get a win against this team. In order to do that we have to play well, and sometimes we haven't given our best efforts against this team. Credit to them, they play well against us. But we could probably play a little better."

Montreal's 4-1 win in Boston on Jan. 30 snapped a streak of nine straight games between the teams that were decided by one goal, with two of those games being decided in shootouts. It was also the first game between the Bruins and Canadiens since the start of the 2012-13 season that didn't have first place in their division on the line, and that's the case again in this game with the Bruins holding a healthy 12-point lead on the Canadiens in the standings.

"It's not like we're blowing them out or anything," Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said. "They're all close games and we've just been finding ways to win. Against a good team like that it's something we take pride in, the character we've shown to win those close games. They play hard every time, and for us we know how they want to play. They're the big, physical Boston Bruins. We don't go outside our comfort zone, we like to use our speed and try to get on the forecheck and wear them down as much as we can. That's what we do, and we don't worry about what they're trying to do."

The Bruins, for the most part, are trying to do the same thing. They admit that for some reason they don't play their typical brand of hockey against the Canadiens, and will need to focus on doing that in order to come away with a win Wednesday.

Could it be that the Canadiens do something that forces the Bruins to change their game when the two teams meet?

"I'm not ready to say that," Julien said.

However, one area where the Canadiens appear to affect the Bruins is discipline. Over the past five games between the teams Montreal has averaged four power-play opportunities per game and has scored with the man advantage in all but one of those games. The Bruins, over the same span, have gone 1-for-12 on the power play.

Boston spent 78 minutes in the penalty box in those five Montreal victories, compared to 52 for the Canadiens.

"They have really quick forwards, skilled forwards," Campbell said. "I think our speed is underrated a little bit, I don't think people give us credit for that, but we're a physical team. We like to grind it out. They're built a little bit differently than us, and that's fine, but sometimes we get away from our game. We try to play a game that doesn't serve us well. I think that's an important thing to note when we go in to play the Canadiens; that we have to stick to our game and not try to compete with them at their game."

The Bruins downplayed their recent history of losses against the Canadiens heading into the game Wednesday, with center David Krejci saying he had no idea about Montreal's five-game win streak against his team.

"If you wouldn't tell me it I wouldn't even know that it's been a long time," he said. "It doesn't matter. [Wednesday]'s a new game. It doesn't matter what happened in the past."

That's true, but the recent history of this rivalry also shows to what extent nothing else matters either when trying to determine the final outcome. The records of the two teams, how they're playing leading up to the game, who's in goal, who's injured, who's hot, who's cold, none of it appears to impact the final result when the Canadiens and Bruins take the ice.

And that's part of what makes the rivalry so special.

"You definitely notice the difference," Gallagher said. "You get excited for it, the Boston-Montreal rivalry and all that comes with it. You definitely feel the intensity right away, that's for sure. It is different than any other game. But that said, you have to play the same way, you can't do anything you're not used to doing or that you don't normally do that made you successful up to this point. You use the emotion, you use the crowd's energy, but you don't go too far outside your comfort zone."

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