BOSTON - Bruce Cassidy will make his first foray into the Boston-Montreal rivalry as interim head coach on Sunday night. But the new bench boss is far from a stranger to the decades long feud between the franchises.
Despite growing up in Ottawa, Cassidy became a diehard Bruins fan thanks to his affinity for Bobby Orr. He also loved watching Don Cherry behind the bench and Barry Pederson and Rick Middleton dazzle on the ice.
The black & gold skates his parents bought him - his first ever pair - helped contribute to his fandom, too. But that part was just a coincidence. His father's team was the Toronto Maple Leafs, while his brother rooted for the New York Islanders.
His mom, a Montreal native, was a Canadiens fan.
"It's been well-documented. I'm a heart-and-soul Bruins guys, have been ever since I can remember," Cassidy said Sunday morning. "My mother was a Montreal fan, but she wasn't as mad as about it as I was.
"The dynamic was I would live with the game and she'd be fine because she just wanted me to go to bed before the game was over…I was negotiating to get through the second period. Generally, I didn't get much farther than that."
Video: Bruins look to head into the bye week on a high
Cassidy, who has led the Bruins to two straight victories since taking over the reins, will see Sunday night's matchup from the best seat in the house. But he won't allow the emotion of the rivalry to get in the way of the task at hand.
"We want to try to temper some of that," said Cassidy. "You've got to be careful that you don't get so revved up about it that it takes you out of your game. But you've got to understand the importance of it and I do.
"Living it will be an entirely different matter….I understand the importance of the rivalry, I just want the players to make sure it doesn't get the best of them but still play with that energy."
The Bruins are 1-2-0 against the Canadiens - who have lost five of six - this season and sit eight points behind the Atlantic Division leaders in the standings. Boston took the last matchup with a 2-1 overtime victory in Montreal on Dec. 12.
"We've had some good games against Montreal," said Cassidy. "I've been on the bench for three of them. We've played well and we've played games where they've been better than us and we need to be better."
Boston would like nothing more than to continue the success they've had over the past two games. A third straight victory heading into the bye week would leave the Bruins feeling good about themselves after a difficult and emotional stretch.
"Especially against Montreal, it's a team in our division that we're trying to catch and we all know about the rivalry," said Patrice Bergeron. "For us, it's a huge game and especially having the break next week you want to end this on the right note."
"They're a good team," added Brad Marchand. "They've played well all year, they always play well against us. We have a big matchup and it would definitely be nice to get that win before the break."
The bye week, negotiated during the last CBA, is a new addition to the schedule this season. Every team in the league is required a five-day break at some point from between January 1 and March 2.
While the Bruins find themselves playing some good hockey, the break will be an important breather for a team that has played the most games in the league to this point.
"You can't control the schedule," said Bergeron. "You have to go about it and do your best every time you step on the ice and play your hardest. Tonight is no different. The break, hopefully we can use it to our advantage for regroup and refocus and come back energized.
"I guess that's the positive of it. When you're playing well you'd like to keep going, but that's part of it and you just have to go."
Rask Between the Pipes
Cassidy confirmed that Tuukka Rask will be back in goal against Montreal. Anton Khudobin got the start against Vancouver on Saturday and made 29 saves in his first win since Dec. 1. It was just the second win for a Bruins backup goalie this season.
"It's a good break for the body I think," said Rask. "The schedule's been crazy, you're playing every other night. It wears on you physically. It's good to get a couple practice days in and kind of feel fresh and sharp off of it."
Rask was happy to see Khudobin rewarded with a strong effort against the Canucks.
"[The backups have] been put in a tough spot, with the traveling and the back-to-back and you have to stand on your head and play a really good game," said Rask. "Yesterday the team was fresh and Dobby was fresh. It was probably better starting point for him to succeed and I'm sure he gained some confidence from that game."
Lineup Could Change
Cassidy acknowledged that he is considering a change among the forward group for Sunday's game with Montreal, but that it would be a game-time decision. He also said the defense corps would remain the same from Saturday.