Bruins vs. Canadiens: Ranking the Top Playoff Clashes Between Historic Rivals

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor IApril 29, 2014

Bruins vs. Canadiens: Ranking the Top Playoff Clashes Between Historic Rivals

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    Charles Krupa

    Boston and Montreal are facing off this postseason for the 34th time in history. The bar for this series is set awfully high with the amazing contests these two great teams have had since their first playoff encounter back in 1929. How do they all rank?

    Selecting the top clashes in the game's greatest rivalry is no easy task. They have involved some of the best teams in NHL history, seven Stanley Cup contests, 10 series that went the distance and at least a dozen shocking upsets.

    In the end, I've combined all those elements to select the 10 most gripping chapters in this great rivalry's history. If this year's matchup is anywhere close to these precedents, then we're all in for some incredible hockey.

    And if it looks like there's a Montreal bias, consider that the Canadiens have prevailed 23 times. The Bruins won their first meeting, then dropped 19 of their next 20 before emerging victorious eight times in the last 12. Boston has been eliminated by Montreal 23 times, only 16 fewer than by all other NHL teams combined.

    Be sure to add a comment to weigh in on your favorite memories on these 10 thrilling battles and those that narrowly missed the cut. Let's begin!

    All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.


2004: Montreal's Comeback

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    Historical Significance

    While the outcome of the series didn't alter the history of the league in any way, it was a thrilling seven-game series and Montreal's only comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in franchise history.

    The Expected Outcome

    The Boston Bruins and new coach Mike Sullivan were the favorites. They finished the season tied for third overall with 104 points. Rookie goalie Andrew Raycroft won the Calder Trophy before being traded to Toronto for Tuukka Rask two years later.

    Montreal, enjoying the first full season with Claude Julien behind the bench, finished 13th overall and grabbed the second-to-last playoff spot with 93 points.

    It was a similar situation to the 2002 postseason, when new coach Robbie Ftorek guided Boston to a 101-point season and faced Montreal in their first full season with Michel Therrien. The Bruins were dispatched in six games.

    What Happened?

    Boston won the first two games, lost the third, but then looked to have sealed the series with a 4-3 double-overtime victory in Game 4 thanks to a horrible defensive gaffe by Alex Kovalev.

    Instead, Montreal won three straight by a combined score of 12-3. They were swept by Tampa Bay in the next round.

1958: The First Dynasty

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    Associated Press

    Historical Significance

    It was the sixth time in seven seasons the two teams met in the playoffs and the second straight year they faced each other for the Stanley Cup. They would not meet again for 10 more years. 

    Montreal's victory helped propel them towards their first dynasty, which would ultimately send nine players to the Hall of Fame.

    The Expected Outcome

    Montreal was the heavy favorite this year, dominating the regular season with a 43-17-10 record. Boston finished fourth with a losing record of 27-28-15.

    Dickie Moore led the league in goals and points, Henri Richard led the league in assists and Jacques Plante won the Vezina Trophy.

    What Happened?

    The two teams traded victories back and forth, followed by a thrilling 3-2 victory for Montreal in Game 5. They would seal their 10th Stanley Cup with Doug Harvey's empty-netter in Game 6.

    While Montreal established their dynasty, Boston would soon miss the postseason for eight straight years, their only absence that lasted over two seasons.

2011: Boston's Overtime Heroics

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Historical Significance

    Boston won three overtime games to rally past the Montreal Canadiens in an exciting first-round matchup. The Bruins would go on to win their first Stanley Cup since 1972.

    The Expected Outcome

    Boston did have the edge here. The Bruins finished seventh in the NHL with 103 points, while Montreal finished tied for 14th with 96.

    Boston allowed just 195 goals, third-fewest in the league, while Tim Thomas won the Vezina Trophy by leading the league with a .938 save percentage and a 2.00 goals against average. Defenseman Zdeno Chara was a second-team All-Star.

    What Happened?

    Montreal shocked the Bruins by winning the first two games in Boston, with Carey Price allowing just a single goal.

    Boston won Game 3, but the Canadiens looked to take a commanding lead in Game 4. The Habs held leads of 1-0, 3-1 and 4-3 but ultimately lost the game in overtime. Indeed, three of the final four games would go to overtime, with Boston winning all three.

1969: Enter Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito

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    A.E. Maloof

    Historical Significance

    This series wasn't for the Stanley Cup, but in the post-expansion era the Final against an expansion team was considered merely a formality. For all intents and purposes, this was for the Stanley Cup.

    It was a meeting of two very strong teams with overlapping peaks. Other than a first-round sweep the previous season, the backstory was significant for the introduction of two players who would change the complexion of the famed rivalry: Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. This particular encounter would prove to be one of the most closely fought in the two teams' history.

    The Expected Outcome

    The outcome of this series was anybody's guess. Montreal finished first in the regular season with 103 points, with Boston next at 100.

    It was Montreal's second dynasty, its fifth straight Stanley Cup appearance, and the team had won three of the last four. It was part of a stretch where the Canadiens won 10 Stanley Cups in 15 seasons.

    As for the Bruins, they had Hart Trophy winner Esposito, who led the league with 77 assists and 126 points, and a 20-year-old Orr, who won the second of eight straight Norris Trophies.

    What Happened?

    Montreal won the series despite being outscored and outplayed, according to the assessment at the time of Gary Ronberg at Sports Illustrated.

    Montreal won two overtime squeakers at home, then Boston evened the series by a combined score of 8-2. The Canadiens then won two straight, including Jean Beliveau's famous double-overtime victory in Game 6.

    Montreal swept the Blues in the Stanley Cup Final, allowing just three goals in four games. As for the Bruins, they would win the Cup in two of the next three seasons, which would be their final triumphs until 2011.

1955: The Post-Riot Rumble

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    Historical Significance

    In some countries the people riot over food, taxes or war. In Canada they riot over hockey.

    Montreal's superstar Maurice "Rocket" Richard was attacked by Bruin Hal Laycoe, and his subsequent retaliation left him penalized, fined and suspended. The perceived injustice of the ruling triggered one of the country's worst riots in history.

    This first-round matchup would be the next time the two teams would meet.

    The Expected Outcome

    Montreal was a heavy favorite here, finishing with a 41-18-11 record that was just narrowly beaten by the Detroit Red Wings. The Bruins finished fourth with a losing record of 23-26-21 and replaced coach Lynn Patrick with Milt Schmidt in midseason.

    Montreal's Bernie Geoffrion tied Richard for the league goal-scoring lead with 38, one ahead of Jean Beliveau in third, and finished first, second and third in league scoring. Bert Olmstead and Norris Trophy winner Doug Harvey finished first and second in assists, respectively.

    What Happened?

    Even with Richard suspended, the Canadiens still made relatively short work of the Bruins, winning the series 4-1 by a combined score of 16-9.

    This series would also feature Don Cherry's one and only NHL hockey game as a player.

1988: Boston's Upset

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    Denis Brodeur/Getty Images

    Historical Significance

    It was Boston's first postseason series victory over Montreal in 45 years.

    It was also an upset victory that helped propel the Bruins to the first of two Stanley Cup showdowns in three seasons with the mighty Edmonton Oilers.

    The Expected Outcome

    Montreal was the favorite here, earning a second-best 103 points with a 45-22-13 regular-season record.

    The Habs allowed just 238 goals in 1987-88, the fewest in the NHL, thanks to Patrick Roy's league-leading .900 save percentage and Guy Carbonneau's Selke Trophy-winning performance.

    Boston finished fourth overall with a 44-30-6 record, and their leading scorer was Norris Trophy winner Ray Bourque with 81 points. 

    What Happened?

    After losing the opener 5-2, Boston surprised Montreal by winning four straight. Despite averaging four goals a game thus far in the postseason, the Canadiens managed just five more the rest of the way.

    Boston then advanced past the Devils to face the mighty Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final. They would repeat this exact feat in 1990 with new coach Mike Milbury.

    As for Montreal, Pat Burns would succeed Jean Perron as head coach, improve the team to 115 points and reach the Stanley Cup Final himself.

1979: Don Cherry's Blunder

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    Associated Press

    Historical Significance

    It was the final season of Montreal's long dynasty, and the third straight titanic meeting of the two giants, the previous two of which were in the Stanley Cup Final.

    It proved to be a tight seven-game series that was ultimately decided by one of history's most unfortunate coaching errors.

    The Expected Outcome

    Just like in the previous two seasons, both of which could be arguably included in this list, neither team had a clear advantage.

    Montreal finished second with 115 points, one back of the New York Islanders for the league lead, while Boston was next with 100 points.

    Montreal had solid goaltending in Vezina Trophy winner Ken Dryden and the league's best defensive forward in Bob Gainey, while Guy Lafleur finished third in the scoring race with 129 points. Boston's offense was a little more spread out, featuring eight 20-goal scorers.

    What Happened?

    Up 4-3 late in Game 7, coach Don Cherry accidentally handed Montreal a power play with too many men on the ice. Guy Lafleur scored the equalizer, then Yvon Lambert secured the winner in overtime.

    Montreal would advance to win their 21st Stanley Cup in Scotty Bowman's final season as coach. Cherry's unfortunate error would end his time with the Bruins and, after a season with the Colorado Rockies, as an NHL coach altogether.

1971: Ken Dryden and the Great Upset

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    Denis Brodeur/Getty Images

    Historical Significance

    This epic first-round matchup was one of hockey's greatest upsets, featured one of the game's greatest comebacks and saw the breakout performance of one of hockey's greatest goaltending legends.

    The Expected Outcome

    This series was Boston's to lose. 

    In Tom Johnson's first year as coach, they led the regular season with 121 points while scoring 399 goals, far more than Montreal's fourth-place 97 points and second-best 291 goals.

    Bobby Orr was healthy and in his prime, winning the Hart Trophy with 37 goals, 102 assists and 139 points while posting a ludicrous plus/minus of plus-124. 

    Phil Esposito led the league with 76 goals and 152 assists, while John Bucyk and Ken Hodge gave them a total of four players with at least 105 points.

    What Happened?

    Montreal's Ken Dryden, who was originally drafted by the Bruins, came out of nowhere, facing an average of 41 shots per game and helping to engineer one of hockey's greatest upsets.

    It was an amazing seven-game series that featured Montreal's comeback from a 5-1 deficit in Game 2. Montreal went on to win the Stanley Cup, its third in four years and fifth in seven.

1952: Rocket Richard's Revenge

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    Historical Significance

    Montreal and Boston met in a thrilling opening-round matchup that ended with one of the most famous goals in history.

    The Expected Outcome

    Though Montreal finished a distant second to the dominant Detroit Red Wings, who would dispatch them in the Stanley Cup Final, the Canadiens were still strongly favored to beat the fourth-place Bruins in the opening round.

    Elmer Lach led the league in assists, while Bernie Geoffrion was Rookie of the Year, barely beating out teammate Dickie Moore.

    What Happened?

    Montreal got off to a great start, dominating the first two games at the Forum by a combined score of 9-1. Boston battled back at home before goalie "Sugar Jim" Henry shocked the Habs with a shutout victory in Game 5.

    The Canadiens avoided the upset with an exciting and highly physical double-overtime victory in Game 6, setting up the deciding and even more physical seventh game.

    The game was decided by the greatest goal in Maurice Richard's career. Knocked out after a knee to the head in the first period, Richard came back in the third with perhaps only a vague awareness that a hockey game was being played.

    Through blurry vision he scored the game-winner on Henry, who required the use of hot and cold compresses to prevent his own face from swelling beyond the point where he could see.

    After the game, Henry was photographed shaking the hand of a bloodied Richard in a famous display of sportsmanship.

1930: Their First Stanley Cup Contest

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    Associated Press

    Historical Significance

    In the days before the NHL became the Original Six, 1930 was the first meeting between Boston and Montreal in the Stanley Cup Final and the second postseason meeting of the two teams ever.

    The Expected Outcome

    This looked to be an easy win for the mighty Boston Bruins, the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

    The Bruins were arguably the best team in NHL history at the time, posting a 38-5-1 record. Their 77 points bested the second-place Habs by 26, and they won all four regular-season matchups.

    Boston's Cooney Weiland and Dit Clapper finished first and second in goals respectively with 43 and 41, and first and third in points with 73 and 61. Star goalie Cecil "Tiny" Thompson won the Vezina Trophy.

    What Happened?

    George Hainsworth shut out Boston in Game 1, and the Canadiens completed the upset by winning the best-of-three series with a 4-3 victory in Game 2.

    Boston hadn't lost two games in a row all season. The next year, the league made the Stanley Cup Final a best-of-five series. You know it's a big win when it causes a rule change!

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.


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