BROSSARD, Que. — Nobody has called 911 yet. Can this possibly be a Boston Bruins-Montreal Canadiens playoff series?
With Boston holding a 3-2 lead in the first-round series heading into Tuesday night’s game in Montreal, play between the two Original Six rivals has been so close that neither team is willing to risk giving the other a needless power-play opportunity.
“It’s playoff hockey,” Canadiens forward Travis Moen said following the team’s practice Monday at its suburban rink complex. “No team wants to put their team down, you know, spend a lot of time in the penalty box, so it’s physical but it’s clean.”
The inexcusable and dangerous — not to mention illegal — use of the emergency telephone number by Canadiens fans in the wake of Zdeno Chara’s devastating hit of Max Pacioretty on March 8 was one of the most extreme examples of the bitter rivalry spilling over into the real world.
While Montreal police deplored the completely irresponsible use of the 911 number, they did begin an ongoing investigation into the incident, which left Pacioretty with a severe concussion and a broken neck vertebrae.
Chara was given a major penalty and a game misconduct — though no supplemental discipline by the NHL — after he drove the Canadiens left wing headfirst into a stanchion at the end of the Bruins’ bench at the Bell Centre.
The incident marred Montreal’s 4-1 win in the first meeting between the two Northeast Division rivals after a wild and fight-filled 8-6 Bruins win at the TD Garden on Feb. 9.
Boston won a 7-0 blowout at home on March 24 in the final regular-season game between the two teams.
Now five games into this 33rd playoff series between the Bruins and the Canadiens, there is little to separate the margin of play between the two bitter rivals. Each team has scored 12 goals in the series, making Boston’s one-game lead that much more valuable.
Buoyed by two straight overtime wins, the Bruins can end the series with a fourth straight victory Tuesday night. If Montreal comes out on top, it’s back to Boston, where the Canadiens have won two of three, for a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday night.
With so much at stake, the focus is squarely back on the ice.
“Every game has been down to the wire so neither team can afford to do something stupid,” Canadiens left wing Mathieu Darche said. “I think they know our power play is pretty effective so they don’t want to take those chances to put us on the power play, and the same thing for us. Even if they haven’t scored on the power play at one point it’s the law of averages, they’re bound to get one. The playoffs are about discipline, too.”
Montreal has converted two of 16 power-play opportunities. Boston is 0 for 15 with the man advantage.
And aside from two heat-of-the-moment fights, there has been little of the dirty play that has blemished many of the other first-round series around the league.
“Maybe, hopefully, we got it all out of the way during the regular season,” said Boston forward Gregory Campbell, the son of NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell. “I think you don’t start out for any of those things, those unfortunate accidents, to happen. I think both teams are playing hard. But as far as any blindside hits or things like that, I can’t really explain why it hasn’t happened. Maybe there were so many things that happened between the two teams this season, that thankfully nothing’s happened yet.”
It’s not as if you have to scratch beyond the surface to find the animosity bred by familiarity.
Andrew Ference was fined $2,500 for making an obscene gesture toward the Bell Centre crowd in Game 4. The Bruins’ defenseman apologized afterward, claiming that he was the victim of a wardrobe malfunction which caused the middle finger of his glove to rise above the others when he pumped his fist to celebrate a goal.
That PG-13 moment aside, it’s been pretty tame.
Pacioretty, who has resumed skating, apologized Saturday night for a comment he made on Twitter making fun of Bruins forward Brad Marchand’s nose.
“I think both teams realize that discipline is a big factor in this series,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “When you look at last game, I think again both teams had 30-plus hits. It’s not like it’s not a hitting series. But it’s not a dirty one.
“I think there’s a lot of hate probably between the two teams, but there’s also a lot of respect. And we know that we respect their offense and their power play, and we certainly don’t want to give them that advantage. And I think they respect the fact that if they get into a physical situation with us, they’re probably not going to win that one.”