How absolutely enormous is tonight’s Bruins-Canadiens Game Seven?
Montreal’s fans have sold out the 21,000-seat Bell Centre to watch. Do they know Boston’s TD Bank Garden hosts the deciding contest 300 miles away?
It’s tempting to reach into the past to grab reasons explaining why such excitement surrounds this Original Six series. The Bs and Habs have met 34 times in NHL playoff series. In seven of those meetings, held before the NHL realigned, the Stanley Cup played as the stakes. Montreal won all of those Stanley Cup matchups. There’s history in this present series, and most of it lies on the side of Montreal.
And no two teams have played more Game Sevens in the history of North American sports. Like Red Sox-Yankees, the Bruins-Canadiens plays as a largely one-sided (at least until recently) rivalry matched in its history by its bitterness. The ghosts of Eddie Shore and Rocket Richard surely will haunt the ice tonight.
But it’s not the ghosts of playoffs past that make the 2014 Bruins-Canadiens battle one to remember. The teams have made their own memories. PK Subban’s double-overtime game-winning goal in the opener, the Bruins scoring four goals in the final ten minutes to then even up the series in a 5-3 win, and Bruins AHL call-up Matt Frasier scoring the lone goal of Game Four in overtime to tie the series at two play as a few of the moments that will forever play on the Bruins-Canadiens highlight loop.
Until Montreal’s Game Six blowout, comebacks and competitiveness characterized the series. The Bruins entered the seven-game stanza with the best goalie in hockey in Tuukka Rask. They conclude it with Montreal’s Carey Price showing himself the best goalie in the series. PK Subban has made the case for himself getting Zdeno Chara money in the offseason. The Bruins look to make a case for themselves as the best team in hockey by making it to the Stanley Cup for the third time in four seasons. But Montreal, and then, potentially, New York, stands in the way.
Much of the gamesmanship has had little to do with the actual games. Bigoted Bruins fans lashed out at PK Subban with racially-abusive language after his Game One heroics. Canadiens fans showered Bruins star Milan Lucic with debris after Boston’s Game Six loss. Shawn Thornton infamously squirted PK Subban to add insult to injury in the Canadiens’ Game Five loss. Montreal’s Andrei Markov nailed Zdeno Chara in the groin with his stick at the end of Game Six.
Think it’s gotten vicious? “I’d rather not stoop to their level,” Candiens forward Brandon Prust told the Montreal Gazette‘s Dave Stubbs. “We have a lot of pride in this dressing room.” PK Subban said earlier in the series, “I hope it gets nasty. I hope it gets dirty. We’re going to be there at the end, standing tall.” One team has to win. But the victors more likely will be crouched over nursing injuries after emerging from this gauntlet of a series.
The bumps and bruises are nothing new. Rocket Richard, knocked into unconsciousness after a hit, scored the go-ahead goal to hand the Canadiens a Game Seven victory over the Bruins in the 1952 playoffs.
“Please, no handshakes,” he said after the win. “There are six stitches in my head and it hurts.” The final tally on tonight’s scoreboard remains unclear. But surely this one, even for the winning team, will hurt.