After their incredible seven-game first-round series during the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, the rivalry between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens took a step back last year, but expect that to change when/if the lockout ends and the 2012-13 NHL season gets underway.
Boston won last year's series 4-2 after losing the first two meetings, and even though these games had some good moments, the hatred and intensity seen in their many meetings from the previous seasons were missing.
There were a couple reasons why this happened. The Canadiens were awful last year, and injuries to several key players, including star goaltender Carey Price, were a major reason for their poor performance.
Canadiens vs. Bruins is the best rivalry in the NHL.
Montreal also didn't have as many physical players to combat the Bruins' aggressive style of hockey as they normally do. This resulted in fewer memorable fights between the two teams and brought the overall level of physicality in the rivalry down a notch.
However, the biggest reason why the intensity of the rivalry decreased last year was because the two teams weren't fighting for the Northeast Division title, and for most of the season, the Canadiens weren't even in the playoff picture.
The schedule makers also didn't help these teams. The final meeting between the Bruins and Canadiens last year was in February, so even if they were battling for the division crown, they wouldn't have played any late-season games against each other with crucial points in the standings on the line.
This year should be much different.
The league was smart to schedule four of the six meetings for the 2012-13 season after January 1. Although, the schedule could change depending on what happens in the current lockout.
The good news for Bruins and Canadiens fans is that no games between these teams are scheduled in November or December, which are the next two months that we may lose games because of the work stoppage.
Since there are three meetings between the Bruins and Canadiens in the final three months of the season, including two in March, there's a good chance that these games could be very important in the playoff race. Any late-season meeting between the Bruins and Canadiens with playoff implications has the chance to be one of the best games of the year, and we might get three of these in 2012-13.
Rivalries are at their best when both teams are playoff contenders, and even though Montreal finished last in the division a year ago, there's a strong chance that they will bounce back this season and challenge for a playoff spot.
The Canadiens offense is already strong, and when they begin the season with a deeper blue line than last year, especially if offensive defenseman Andrei Markov is healthy, they could be one of the most improved teams in the Eastern Conference.
When you look at the rosters of both teams, you'll notice that the Canadiens added some more size and toughness to their roster in the offseason to help matchup better with the Bruins.
Montreal's addition of Brandon Prust will instantly make the Canadiens a tougher team, and one that kills penalties better too.
Prust rarely declines to drop his gloves, and has even fought Lucic a few times in his career. Including a bout last season when the 28-year-old veteran was with the New York Rangers (video below).
Colby Armstrong, who signed in the summer as a free agent, will also add more grit and toughness to the Canadiens' lineup.
Since both of these teams should score a lot of goals, play a physical style of hockey and compete for a playoff spot this season, the Bruins' and Canadiens' rivalry should be much more intense than it was last year.
If we are lucky, we could see these fierce rivals meet in the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons. Who wouldn't want another Bruins and Canadiens playoff series?
Nicholas Goss is a Boston Bruins Columnist for Bleacher Report and has covered the team firsthand since the 2010-11 season. He was also the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston.