“Montreal had faster ice than anyone else,” he says. “Because it was so cold up there. They were used to it and we weren’t. We had to play physical hockey just to keep up to them. But they were physical as well.
“We had tough guys like Eddie Shore and [Aubrey] Dit Clapper, who was the toughest guy in the National Hockey League. Dit never fought at home, to my knowledge, but on the road he looked after Bobby, Woody and me. We had to play Montreal hard to have a chance.”
“Montreal had guys who could score,” Costello adds. “The rivalry was there. It was sure felt among the fans in Boston. It was serious. They knew there was a lot of tension and it had big meaning to play Montreal. They always knew it was going to be a special go. And Montreal had all the big-name guys, so they knew they had to beat the star players like Rocket and Béliveau and Doug Harvey to have a chance.”
Costello recalls that famous 1952 portrait of the Rocket and Sugar Jim, bloodied warriors, shaking hands at the end of a typical Montreal-Boston series. “I used to look at it from time to time,” he says of his playing days in Boston. “That picture pretty much epitomizes the rivalry.”
Bob Gainey thinks part of the reason for such passion has to do with simple location. “It’s one of those geographical rivalries,” he says, “where the cities are close enough together in distance, but in other ways thousands of miles apart. They are very different, and yet it’s very familiar for each to visit the other.”
Gainey believes Montreal fans enjoyed the rivalry with Boston more than with any other team. “I think occasionally the Boston-Montreal rivalry would get out of hand physically,” he says, “but most of the time it was focused toward who was the better team. It’s a great opportunity to have that kind of competition laid in front of you as a competitor and to have the opportunity to participate in it.”
And so it has been since that first meeting in 1929. Since then there have been a thousand Boston-Montreal tales told and retold: Richard and Sugar Jim, Richard and Laycoe, Dryden’s remarkable “pre-rookie” spring of 1971, Boston coach Don Cherry and the too-many-men call in 1979 that led to a Boston loss in overtime, Boston captain Zdeno Chara’s gut-wrenching hit on Montreal’s Max Pacioretty in the weeks before the two teams last met in 2011 and went to a Game 7 overtime, P.K. Subban’s overtime heroics Thursday night, much to the chagrin of the hometown crowd …
“Perhaps,” Gainey suggests, “the number of times that it comes up as a reality rather than as a discussion about time past helps keep it vivid and clear for each new generation.”
It began in the 1920s, exploded in the 1950s, grew in stature in the 1970s and remains in 2014 and, surely, through generations to come.
“Regardless of whether or not it’s a bad thing,” Milt Schmidt says, “it still continues.”