Hate is a pretty strong word. Whenever I say “I hate (insert common daily annoyance here),” it can usually be replaced with a “generally dislike” or “get really peeved by.” For us common folk, its a one-syllable word that we probably use too much, as in reality it packs quite a punch.
But when Milan Lucic spoke of his feelings, and of those between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, its the only word that seemed to fit.
“The hatred is definitely there.”
It’s no surprise that for the past few months there has been a shouting match across our northern border between fans, journalists, and radio shock jocks in regards to who’s crazier, more obnoxious, and more delirious. All relying on the outcome of, in the grand scheme a things, a small amount of games spaced pretty far apart to control the ebb and flow of the noise.
This doesn’t seem like a regular old playoff series. And that’s saying something considering that in my humble opinion, hockey played between the months of April and June is the best sporting event on planet earth. Even for Boston and Montreal, this one feels special.
Forget Yankees/Red Sox, Pats/Jets, Lakers/Celtics. Right now in North American sports there aren’t two teams and fan bases that hate each other more for wearing a different set of colors than the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.
It’s where the media bias peeks its head out even a little more than normal. It’s where Boston writers start to use air quotes around the words “severe concussion” when referencing Max Pacioretty. It’s where Montreal scribes start to remind everyone exactly how many games the Boston Bruins were up by before losing in last years playoffs. Each reference a quick jump over the line in the sand that divides us all, just to jump back as soon as you’ve caught the other side’s attention.
Its where yours truly daydreams that when the Montreal Canadiens plane crossed into American airspace over the border of Vermont Wednesday, Tim Thomas jolted awake in a cold sweat and realized he had ripped his pillow in half.
If I didn’t know any better, I would think the script writers at World Wrestling Entertainment have been penning the storyline for these two teams all along this season. February 9th saw hockey’s version of the Royal Rumble, where moments passed in which I truly believed we were an overtime period away from aluminum folding chairs somehow becoming involved, or having the first player in the history of the NHL take off one of their skates and try to stab another player.
The villains, the heroes, the taunting, the scores to settle. This is the stuff normally saved for sports fairy tales.
It didn’t seem that long ago a mic’d up Carey Price tried to make small talk with Tim Thomas at the All Star draft. While Price joked about the hard shot of Shea Weber, Thomas stoically faced forward, just a slight nod, nothing more. Carey Price said their scrap, which looked more like two drunk fathers getting physical over their sons little league game, was just”play fighting.” To me the look in Thomas’ eye as he clawed up Price’s arm was that of a man who genuinely didn’t like the partner he was grappling with.
Its Price and Thomas. Its Chara and Gill. Its Subban and Marchand. Its Subban and Lucic. Its Subban and Horton. Well you get the point.
A lot of the talk and focus about this match up is how different these two teams really are. Big versus Small. Physicality versus finesse. Strength versus speed. Aggressive versus patient. Its true that the makeup of these clubs don’t seem like they could be any more dissimilar.
But despite the size of players, game plans, and systems these two teams have never been closer in recent memory, and in my opinion its one of the reasons there is just that extra pinch of tension. The last two times the Bruins and Canadiens met in the playoffs they were each at the opposite spectrum of the standings. In 2008 the Canadiens the number one seed pushed to the brink by the eighth-seeded Bruins. In 2009 it was the President Trophy winning Bruins sweeping the Canadiens who snuck in the final playoff spot.
In the past two years only a handful of points have separated these two, last season three points, this year seven. Whether they like it or not they are probably much more like each other than they’d care to think.
It’s easy to hate with two teams like this. Two teams from different cultures. Two teams that play their own way. Your way versus my way. On the surface so very different but at the heart of what they want so very much the same. It makes for chaos between the glass. As a spectator you breathe in that controlled chaos and hold it in your lungs. It makes you lightheaded and angry and you love the way it feels.
Hate it or love it, its playoff hockey at its finest.