Everyone knows that George Orwell called sports "war minus the shooting."
But most ignore why he called it that. Orwell - who pretty much disliked everything that anyone else liked - believed that, "Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence."
Orwell never missed a Boston-Montreal playoff series.
Well, that's not true, but he could well have taken his inspiration from the astonishing 32 times the Bruins and Canadiens have met in the postseason. Thursday in Boston will launch the 33rd. No two teams have met so often in decisive series in all of NHL history.
Monday in Montreal, Canadiens coach Jacques Martin called it "one of the greatest rivalries in sports." Think of it as hockey's Yankees v. Red Sox, Chicago Bears against Green Bay Packers, Conservatives against Liberals …
In Boston, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli suggested it is not just 1929 - when goaltender Ralph (Tiny) Thomson led the Bruins past Montreal and on to a Stanley Cup victory - but 2011, when the two best goaltenders in the Eastern Conference will face each other.
"Obviously," Chiarelli said in a Monday conference call, "there's a lot of emotion from both teams based on the historic nature of the rivalry and the recent history of the rivalry."
The recent history is the one that will drive this series. It includes a match so nasty in early February that the number recalled is not the score but the penalty minutes: 187. It includes the March 8 hit that Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara (6 foot 9, 260 pounds) put on Montreal's Max Pacioretty that saw Pacioretty's head slam into a stanchion and leave him with a broken vertebra and a severe concussion - an injury that Boston forward Mark Recchi, himself a former Montreal player, later said was "embellished" by Montreal in the hopes of getting Chara suspended. (He wasn't.)
In the rematch that followed in Boston, the Bruins totally humiliated the Canadiens 7-0, adding still more fuel to a fire that has raged for more than eight decades.
Montreal has been the dominant playoff team over those 32 previous meetings, winning 24. The last time they met, however, Boston swept the Habs in four straight games. It was the spring of 2009, the Montreal Canadiens' centennial year, a season of intricate planning and celebration that most assuredly did not include being humbled by the one team to which Montreal least cares to lose.
This year, the Canadiens are coming off a 2010 Stanley Cup playoff that is considered a bit of a miracle, the Habs somehow managing to defeat the two best teams in the East, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, before falling from exhaustion to the Philadelphia Flyers, who went on to lose the final to Chicago. The Bruins, up 3-0 on Philadelphia in their series, became only the third team in NHL history to bumble a three-games-to-none lead in a series.
So there is much to prove, even if just considering modern history when these two archrivals meet.
The storylines are obvious:
Battle of the goaltenders
Montreal's Carey Price and Boston's Tim Thomas are both coming off MVP-level seasons. Yet both, curiously, slip in the other's rink. The two goaltenders even fought each other in the penalty-filled Feb. 9 game.
Conquest of the annoying rookies
The Boston players all hate Montreal defenceman P.K. Subban, he of the flashy mouth and rushes. The Montreal players all despise abrasive Brad Marchand, he of the 21 goals and the rub-it-in-your-face attitude.
The goliath factor
Some defencemen get called "rocks" for their solid play. Chara is more a mountain. Montreal will be out to bring him down. Chara will be out to show why he is the best defenceman in the East.
If the players don't feel it in their veins, the fans surely do. They despise each other and memories go back a long, long way.
The Richard Riot of St. Patrick's Day, 1955, even has a direct Montreal-Boston link, though the Montreal riot took place during a Canadiens match against the Detroit Red Wings.
It came about, however, following the suspension of Maurice (Rocket) Richard - then chasing what would have been his only scoring title - by league president Clarence Campbell for Richard's actions in a March 13, 1955, game against the Bruins in Boston. With Montreal ahead, Boston defenceman Hal Laycoe cut Richard with a high stick and Richard went ballistic. He twice attacked Laycoe with sticks, then punched him out and also punched linesman Cliff Thompson a couple of times. "He wouldn't listen," Richard said in explanation. "That's why I hit him." The attack earned Richard the season-long suspension that enraged Montreal fans to the point of smashing windows, setting fires and overturning cars.
All through the decades, there are touchstones of outrage and humiliation that simply add to the ever-stirring pot when these two teams meet. Montreal will remind Boston of that time in 1979 when, with the Bruins ahead, coach Don Cherry lost count and got penalized for having too many men on the ice, allowing the Canadiens to tie the game and win the series in overtime. Boston will remind Montreal of the early 1990s when the Habs could not get by the Bruins because of the incredible play of goaltender Andy (Habs Killer) Moog. Montreal will counter by saying when Moog became a Canadien, he beat the Bruins …
War minus the shooting, indeed, but certainly not war minus the shots.
"Every boo is a cheer on the road," Montreal coach Scotty Bowman used to say.
It's just a lot louder when Montreal is in Boston, or Boston is in Montreal.