- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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There's been a different feel to this Original Six rivalry in 2011-12. With Thursday's 2-1 win at TD Garden, the Bruins hold a 3-2-0 advantage over the Canadiens in the season series with one game remaining, on Feb. 15 at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
Maybe by that time things will change, but for now the only thing missing in the season series is an orange street-hockey ball, because these clashes have had the intensity of a neighborhood pickup game.
Maybe this storied rivalry is different this season because the Bruins are atop the conference, while the Canadiens are struggling mightily and find themselves in the cellar. Montreal fired its coach last month. The Habs' new coach, Randy Cunneyworth, has been criticized for not being able to speak French.
Even before the puck was dropped Thursday night, there was a negative vibe around the team. The Canadiens' Michael Cammalleri had made some disparaging comments recently, saying the Habs had a "losing mentality," and his comments were the focus on Thursday morning.
Because there's so much happening to the Bruins' greatest rival, the game seemed almost like an afterthought in some ways.
"They've got a lot going on right now," said Bruins coach Claude Julien, who also coached the Canadiens for three seasons (2002-06). "I think their situation is a little bit different. It takes two teams to engage, right? And right now they've got other things on their minds. I haven't felt the same energy, but the results of the games are very similar, and when we do beat them we don't beat them by much, and vice versa. It certainly doesn't have the same flair it had a year ago."
The Bruins received their offense from Jordan Caron and Milan Lucic, while Tim Thomas made 33 saves en route to victory. It was a one-goal game, but it wasn't your typical one-goal game between these storied teams.
"It was a weird game," Lucic said. "The fans were into it before the game started and they were doing their best to try to stay into it, but on the ice it was a weird game. It didn't seem like anyone was getting in anyone's face."
No matter what is happening behind closed doors, these games should always contain that relentless, physical intensity that they're meant to have. Lately, it's been almost dull, and not too fun to watch.
"It's tough to find an answer for it," Lucic said. "They're a team that, even though it hasn't lived up to the emotions of Habs-Bruins, they've always given us tough games. We've had to fight all the way to the last second to get a win and that was no different tonight."
Earlier in the day, it was unusual to hear all the positive comments the Canadiens were directing toward the Bruins. While the Vancouver Canucks have been calling Boston's brand of hockey dirty, many Habs players publicly disagreed with that notion on Thursday morning.
"They play a certain way and I think that's why they're successful," said Montreal's Max Pacioretty. "To some extent, I wish we played a little more like them, maybe not as much as they do, but they're definitely an intimidating team to play against and that's why they're successful. They have so many guys who can step up, and I'm not just talking about fighting, I'm talking about being physical."
Thursday's game showcased the usual bumping and grinding before the Canadiens' P.K. Subban gave the Bruins, and their fans, something to get fired up about. At 12:17 of the third period, the Bruins' David Krejci had control of the puck along the boards near the visitors' bench. As soon as he got rid of the puck, Subban nailed him with an elbow, sending Krejci to the ice. Immediately, Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference jumped in and grabbed Subban before an all-out scrum followed.
Earlier in the day, Subban said how he "loved" playing at the TD Garden and "loved" when the fans would get all over him. When he emerged from the bottom of the pile and was being escorted to the penalty box, he had a massive smirk on his face that Ference appeared to take exception to.
Ference was not made available after the game, but he did relay a statement through a team official.
"My mom said if I don't have anything good to say about someone, then I shouldn't say anything at all," Ference said.
While Ference sat in the penalty box for roughing, the Canadiens capitalized on the power play to cut Boston's lead to 2-1. Even though Julien and the Bruins were not pleased that they allowed the goal, it was more important that Ference stood up for his teammate.
"It cost us a goal and you certainly don't like that part of it," Julien said. "We can't just be happy when it turns out well and then criticize it when it doesn't. Our guys are a group of guys who stick together and you like to see that."
Julien said he could not see Subban's hit because it was in front of the Montreal bench, but because he was called for elbowing, the coach reiterated his stance about his players protecting themselves and their teammates on dangerous plays.
"We're going to police ourselves as far as protecting ourselves and that's the way we decided to handle it," Julien said. "Sometimes it comes with consequences, but at the end of the day, I think everybody knows that if they're going to cross the line with us, they're going to have to face the music."
The Bruins won three of four games on this homestand, and while Julien said he is happy with the end results, he's a little concerned with the way the team has played from start to finish. He's especially concerned because the Bruins now have a four-game road trip, beginning on Saturday in Carolina.
"I certainly can't say I'm pleased with the way we've been playing lately," Julien said. "We're starting to get a little bit sloppy in our plays and decision making. We certainly have to pick up our game a little bit if we plan on going on the road and having some success."
Thursday's game ended with a Bruins victory, but it seemed like it should have ended in a pillow fight. Maybe things will change before Feb. 15.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
The B's and Habs met again, but the edgy, exciting hockey never showed up.