"A game crowded with thrills and spills should develop tonight when those Flying Frenchmen, wearing the word's crown, tackle the rugged and aggressive Bruins."
-December 8, 1924, The Boston Globe
And thus was birthed one of the greatest rivalries in the history of modern sports (no really: it's number 8 on this list. It has its own wikipedia page, for pete' sake). It's officially been 357 days since the last time the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens played the game we call hockey against one another, which frankly is about 356 too many. Tomorrow night will see the end of that awful no game streak, and a rivalry for the ages resumed.
It's the history of said rivalry that makes it one of sport's greats; the sheer number of games the two teams have played against each other would seem to dictate that a certain amount of feeling would develop between the two over time. 717 regular season games. 170 post-season matchups in 33 series. An astonishing total of 887 games played between the Black and Gold and the Bleu Blanc et Rouge since that first one in 1924 -- more than any other two teams have played against each other since the dawn of the NHL.
If only Globe reporter John Hallahan could have known how delightfully prophetic his words would end up being - "a game crowded with spills and thrills should develop tonight" should be the NHL.com boilerplate preview for every game between these two teams. He could not have known on that chilly December night in Boston in 1924, though, that the stage was being set for a passionate and gleeful hatred that would last for years (89 and counting!).
What Hallahan and others around the still fledgling National Hockey League did know about that first game was that a very, very talented Canadiens team would most likely dominate a struggling Boston squad. The Canadiens, you see, were coming off a Stanley Cup championship (having won a best of three series against the Calgary Tigers at the end of the 1923-1924 season). The Bruins were in the first year of their existence, and in their first several games had lost as often as they had won. By all accounts, the matchup was expected to heavily favor Montreal, though most acknowledged the Bruins were capable of bringing a "hard, rugged game."
And indeed, the Canadiens came out of the gate strong, scoring two goals to open the first period, but Boston quickly rallied off two goals from Carson "Shovel Shot" Cooper, and the teams ended the period tied. Boston actually spent the whole of the second period ahead, and the scrappy Bruins entered the third period up 3-2. It was not to last, alas, as Aurele Joliat tallied twice for the Habs in the third (giving him an olde timey hat trick!) for a final score of 4-3.
The Bruins loss was, if not predictable, at the very least not particularly surprising. The Canadiens boasted the best players in all of professional hockey, after all, "stars known throughout the hockey world." More surprising to spectators, perhaps, was the furious tempo of the game and the intensity with which both squads played. The New York Times salivated over the "tremendous pace" of the game, and the plucky, rugged Bruins made nothing about the Canadiens' win easy. As the game progressed, it became clear to everyone that Boston was putting up more of a fight than anyone (including Montreal) has expected. It only got better as the periods passed -- the speed increased, and so too did the precision and passion of players on both sides. It almost seemed as if the two teams pushed each other to be better because of the nature of the competition the other presented. It was almost as if, in fact, the seeds of something bigger were being planted with each fast and furious minute of play that passed.
The Bruins would get absolutely dominated by the Canadiens later in December, losing 5-0 the day after Christmas. Revenge would come, however; on January 11th, 1925, the Bs beat the Habs in overtime in Montreal, for only their second win of the season, playing like (as one reporter opined) a "team that had finally hit its stride."
Spoiler: the Bruins had in no way hit their stride. In fact, Boston's record that first season speaks for itself -- 6-24-0, in case you wanted to be reminded. They would lose to the Canadiens in their fourth and final meeting that season by a score of 5-1. The Bruins, to put it mildly, sucked that season, while the Canadiens made their way once again to the Stanley Cup finals. But despite the seemingly mismatched strengths of the two clubs, a foundation had been laid in that very first game for what was to come.
And what was to come? Well, we all know the answer to that. Intense games. Playoff matchups. Stanley Cups. Fierce battles on the ice, loathing and animosity off it. It's the sort of rivalry that broadcast dreams are made of, and every Bruins fan I know (every Habs fan, too) revels in the hatred. After all, there is nothing in the world quite so satisfying as beating the pants off of your most reviled enemy, nothing quite as devastating as losing to the most hated team of all. The Bruins are better for it, too -- the team is, and so is the fanbase. 89 years of rivalry games, man. Games you are guaranteed to get up for, to treat as though they are all game seven of a Cup final, even if it's only game 22. From December 8, 1924 straight through until today, it's a truly a privilege to be a part of something so much bigger than any one game, one group of players, one year. This relationship is the very definition of love to hate, and being a fan of Bruins would simply not be the same without it.
Here's to game number 888.