Concerning sustained animosity, the Canadiens and Bruins offer one of the finest rivalries on ice. Since their first fateful meeting in 1924, these teams have been clobbering each other in high stakes standoffs, including 34 playoff matchups. While each side has enjoyed many moments of triumph (23 Stanley Cups for the Habs, and six for Boston), the intensity between these teams extends beyond their respective accomplishments. Their fights have gone down as some of the greatest in NHL history as well, including a classic Stanley Cup throwdown in 1978 and a 1986 brawl that made it all the way to the locker room. Oh, and did we mention that bad blood between these teams provoked riots in the 1950s, complete with looting and tear gas? Talk about passion, people.
But if these squads have a long history of holding grudges, which team can claim more success in their head-to-head matchups over time? We took a deep dive into the stats to find which team has prevailed in more matchups, from the time they first competed through February 2017. Ready to see which franchise has the numbers on their side? Then keep reading.
Tension Since the ’20s
In the 1920s, the Canadiens had the upper hand in head-to-head play. They never beat the Bruins consistently enough to open a substantive lead, however, and Boston claimed its first Stanley Cup in 1929. Montreal roared back with Stanley Cup wins in each of the next two seasons, but as a whole, the ’30s unfolded as a decade of Bruins supremacy. This dominance continued through the early ’40s when Boston greats such as Bobby Bauer interrupted their mastery only to serve in World War II.
By 1955, however, the Canadiens had evened the record. That year was particularly painful for Boston fans, as Montreal defeated the Bruins 4-1 in the semifinals. It would begin a Canadiens lead that only widened over the course of the remainder of the 20th century, as Montreal became the most successful playoff team in league history, with 10 more Stanley Cups than any other franchise. The Bruins have won one more recently than the Canadiens (in 2011), but the gap between them and their rival has not contracted. As of February 2017, Boston was 120 wins short of the Canadiens, a stat sure to make the Bruins faithful shudder.
Dueling by Decade
When we consider which players on each team racked up the most points in each decade, some forgotten greats emerge on both sides of the rivalry. For Boston, these include the likes of Phil Esposito, whose chemistry with Bobby Orr produced one of the greatest teams the league has ever seen. Ray Bourque took top marks for longevity, earning the most points of any Boston player in both the ’80s and ’90s. The Hall of Famer’s productivity must have been particularly frustrating for Canadiens fans when he squared off against their squad because Bourque was actually born in Montreal.
Among Canadiens players who led the team in points in each decade, many of the team’s greats make an appearance. John Beliveau won 10 Stanley Cups during his long career with the Canadiens (and added seven more as an executive with the team). No Montreal player excelled in a single decade more than Guy Lafleur, however; he racked up 941 points in the ’70s. “The Flower” was the first player ever to net 50 goals and 100 points in six consecutive seasons, assuring the hatred of the Bruins – and plenty of other teams as well.
Emotions Remain Icy
Although our findings attest to the passion of this rivalry in the past, don’t mistake the Bruins-Canadiens tension for a product of a bygone era. In fact, recent events have added new wrinkles of antagonism between the clubs, such as the hiring of former Boston coach Claude Julien to helm the Canadiens in 2017. Plus, there’s no sport like hockey to get players’ blood pumping (or flying) when a rival comes to town. There’s too much history between these teams to expect anything less than a grudge match when they meet – and all hockey fans can be grateful for that hatred.
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To compile the data presented in this project, we utilized information from hockey-reference.com, a database of historical statistics on the performance of NHL teams and players. We included information only from games in which the Bruins and Canadiens competed against each other, dating from December 1924 through February 2017. No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on raw win totals alone.