(Editor's note: I'm not really a hater. Sorry.)
Some great stars will flash in this renewal of a rivalry which has been a feature of the Stanley Cup play during the last three years. Some scoring records may fall, some epic plays be engineered, and the crowds that pack the Garden should get all the thrills they can stand. Of course, the series, so important to both teams, may result in dull and colorless defensive hockey, but such is not likely to be the case--not at least between these two teams, which always placed the greatest stress on carrying the attack.
A featured rivalry. Epic plays. Raucous, emotional crowds. This quote could be describing any one of numerous matchups between -- and I don't usually make blanket statements like this, but here we are -- the best rivalry in hockey, the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens. It could be about 1952, when Maurice Richard banged one home to take the Cup from the Bruins. It could be about 2009. It could be about 2011. It is, in fact, about 1931, and refers to the years leading up to a playoff run that saw the Bruins and Canadiens, evenly matched all season long, meet in the first round on the road to the Stanley Cup.
Bruins-Canadiens games, man. They're something special. There's something legitimately epic about them, and not in the overused/watered-down sense of the word epic. In 1931, as the Bruins and Habs prepared to face off in the semi-finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the word epic had not yet become the near-meaningless adjective it now is. Rather, when the Globe wrote that epic plays might occur, they meant heart-stopping, jaw-dropping plays that would linger in the minds of those who saw them for years.
In 1931, as predicted, the playoff series between the Bs and the Habs had more than its fair share of game-changing moments -- none so momentous (and for today's Bruins fans, delightfully familiar) as the first game's third-period comeback:
Unleashing a furious third period attack against a short-handed Les Canadiens team the Boston Bruins last night scored three goals in less than seven minutes to overhaul a team which has taken a 4 to 1 lead, and then after the fame had gone almost 19 minutes into overtime puched home the winning marker against an outfit which has long since been deprived of its moral. The final score was 5 to 4.
It was a historic comeback. It was also all for naught -- the Habs won the series, three games to two, and proceeded to turn that into a Stanley Cup victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Historically, in the many many playoff series the two teams have played, Montreal has won more, by far -- but Boston has never made it easy on them, never stopped being the irritating team that Canadiens had to get through to raise the Cup. And sometimes, it was Boston that won, Boston that triumphed in close games (miss you already, Nathan Horton). They've met in 7 Cup Finals, and 33 playoff series. In 1931, though the Bruins were slightly favored, even the Globe admitted that with these two teams anything could (and almost certainly would) happen. Would Art Ross be the first GM/Coach to pull the goalie in a playoff game? Yep, he sure would! Would Montreal come back from a crushing game one defeat to carry the series? You know it! Would Boston make them fight for it, every step of the way, even winning a game in the madhouse that was Montreal? Abso-fucking-lutely.
Hate is easy. Hate can be based on one heated series (‘sup, Vancouver!) or one incident that impacts a franchise forever (‘sup, Matt Cooke/Penguins!). Rivalry, though, true rivalry is grounded in more than hate. It's built on one tough series after another, on constantly pushing each other and chasing each other. It's built on shaking hands as blood drips down your face as the Stanley Cup is raised. It's got hatred, but it also has a level of real respect: one only deigns to assign rivalry status to a team worthy of such a thing. It has to be because they've beaten your team as well as lost to them, because they never stop being the thorn in your side.
Sports hate, the kind the these sorts of rivalries are founded on, is one of the things that gives oomph to otherwise bland Tuesday night games. Everyone -- fans, players, media -- shows up for those games. It's true now, and it was true in 1931. For almost 90 years now, no one's done it better.