To appreciate the depth of disdain NHL rivals Montreal and Boston have for each other one need only listen to the delight expressed by Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban at the prospect of ending the Bruins’ season.
Subban and the Canadiens, fresh off Monday’s 4-0 home win over the Bruins, will head to what is sure to be a raucous TD Garden in Boston for a do-or-die game on Wednesday that will send the winner to the Eastern Conference Finals.
“I can’t wait for the crowd, the noise, the energy in the building. I can’t wait to take that all away from (Boston and their fans),” said Subban.
Even before the opening faceoff of the best-of-seven East semifinal, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien predicted the series would be “trench warfare.”
If it is true that familiarity breeds contempt then the two Original Six teams have a deep reservoir of malice to draw upon in a rivalry that stretches back to 1929 and seen the two cities clash in the postseason 34 times — a record in North American professional sport.
Heightening the tension, Wednesday’s meeting marks the ninth occasion the teams have clashed in a winner-take-all Game 7 and the fourth time in the past five series since 2004.
“They’re a lot of fun,” said Montreal netminder Carey Price, who is 1-1 in Game 7s against Boston. “That’s the whole reason you play the hockey game.
“That’s what you dream of as a kid.”
While they may be fun, the bone-jarring battles are not for the faint of heart.
The Canadiens have won five of the eight Game 7s but the Bruins captured the most recent contest, a 4-3 overtime victory in 2011. In that game, Subban forced overtime with a late goal before Boston’s Nathan Horton tallied the series winner.
Subban, who leads the Canadiens in postseason scoring with 12 points, is the well established public enemy No. 1 in Boston. An exciting blend of cockiness, exuberance and skill makes the 25-year-old easy to dislike for opposing fans.
That dislike, however, took an ugly turn in Game 1 of the series when Subban, who is black, became the target of racial slurs on social media after scoring the double-overtime winner.
While Subban can be an abrasive pest on the ice he has also been applauded for the grace he displayed in dealing with the unpleasant racist taunts.
The supremely confident Subban has also been able to get under the skin of Bruins players.
Boston forward Shawn Thornton was fined by the league for spraying the defenseman with a water bottle while Bruins tough guy Milan Lucic was driven to distraction flexing his bicep from the bench at a smiling and chirping Subban.
Already a Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s top defenseman and a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the Sochi Olympics, Subban has established himself as one of those rare athletes who perform best on the biggest stages.
And that stage is set for more Subban heroics on Wednesday and another do-or-die Game 7.
“I remember losing in Boston. I remember that we had an opportunity to win. I remember going to overtime and then seeing a shot that bounced through a guy’s legs and went in,” recalled Subban about the 2011 playoff series. “This is going to be the biggest game of the year for us, and for some guys it’s going to be the biggest game of their careers so far.
“It’s fun. It’s where legends are made.”