It’s about time the Boston-Montreal rivalry was great again.
After hitting their peak in their 2011 Stanley Cup run and an eventual loss to the Canadiens in the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals, the Bruins have missed the playoffs for two straight seasons and have continued to struggle against the hated Habs.
What was looking like a dead 2016-17 season finally has some life, as more than enough fuel has been added to a flickering rivalry fire.
Claude Julien was hired as the Montreal head coach Tuesday evening, sending shockwaves throughout the NHL. Maybe the most surprising aspect of the move was the Habs firing current head coach Michel Therrien to make room for the former Bruins coach.
It’s not the first time Therrien was swapped for Julien by the Canadiens, either; it happened back in 2002.
This time, however, the Bruins have a bit more of a stake in it.
Boston infamously fired Julien a week ago, making the announcement on the day of the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl parade — the ultimate newsdump. The firing as well as the way they handled it received criticism.
Julien has been on the supposed hot seat for several years, and it seemed to hit a peak after the 2015-16 season when the Bruins lost to Ottawa on the last day of the regular season to miss out on the playoffs. General manager Don Sweeney gave Julien his vote of confidence, and he remained behind the B’s bench.
There were multiple times this season it seemed Julien was on his way out, may it be a Friday night 1-0 heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in January or a 5-1 torching by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But it wasn’t until after a 6-5 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs that the Bruins finally made the move. It was three days after the loss, and two days before the team’s contest against the San Jose Sharks at home.
Yes, the Bruins have gone 3-0 under the reign of Bruce Cassidy and are currently in their bye week before starting a difficult West Coast road trip to kick off the stretch run of the season.
Even if the Bruins make the postseason, it doesn’t excuse the way the team handled the firing of their coach with most wins in the team’s history. It doesn’t excuse that they allowed Julien to interview with Montreal, the team in first place in their division, in an attempt to save some money that doesn’t even count toward the salary cap.
One way or another, the Habs-Bruins rivalry is about to get a lot more heated. The two don’t face off again in the regular season. Their last contest was this Sunday night, a 4-0 Bruins win against Montreal (under Therrien) at the TD Garden in one of their more spirited efforts of the season.
But what if these teams were to meet in the postseason?
Since the NHL moved to its new divisions format, it has encouraged teams in the same division to play in the postseason. If the season ended today, the Bruins would face Ottawa, and the Habs would get the New York Rangers. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played, and Montreal, 1-5-1 in the past month, could fall further in the standings.
The Bruins do have 11 less points than the Rangers, meaning a lot would need to happen for the matchup to be possible.
There have been five playoff matchups between the Bruins and Canadiens in the past 12 years.
If they were to meet this year? It might be the most exciting time yet.