WILMINGTON, Mass. — The Bruins and Canadiens have been battling on the ice for more than nine decades.
They've played 708 times in the regular season, and faced each other in another 163 playoff games. Bruins rookie Zach Hamill will be getting his first taste of the rivalry when Montreal comes to the Garden on Wednesday, but he already knows these are no ordinary games.
"It'll be nice playing in that," Hamill said after Tuesday's practice at Ristuccia Arena. "I'm trying not to think too much about it, but it will be a lot of fun and really exciting."
Playing the Habs hasn't been much fun this season for the Bruins. Montreal has won all three of the meetings so far, with each providing a different brand of frustration.
The Canadiens snapped a 1-1 tie with two third-period goals for a 3-1 win in their first visit to the garden back on Nov. 11, then jumped out to a quick lead and held off a Bruins rally for a 4-3 win in Montreal on Dec. 16. But the real agony came on Jan. 8, when the Habs struck twice in the final 2:22 to tie it, then won 3-2 on Max Pacioretty's goal at 3:43 of overtime.
"They've certainly given us some tough games," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I thought the last one was a tough loss with a two-nothing lead and just a few minutes left, but I thought we played well enough that we should have won that game."
Long-suffering Bruins fans have plenty of memories of devastating defeats at the hands of the Habs. Montreal has won 24 of the 32 playoff series between the clubs, none more painful than the infamous too-man-men-on-the-ice incident in Game 7 of the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinals.
But the Bruins have exorcised some ghosts in more recent history, including a four-game sweep in their last playoff matchup in 2009. Now they'd like to add a little more misery to Montreal in a potential playoff preview. The Bruins are currently third in the East, and would match up with the sixth-place Canadiens if the current standings held through the end of the season. But Montreal is just two points behind Boston for the Northeast Division lead, and those conference standings can change in a hurry, especially with a home-and-home series against another Original Six rival looming later in the week when the Bruins take on Detroit twice.
"It's definitely a tough week," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "We have to be excited going into these three games. It's definitely a big challenge for us. Obviously Montreal has always been a tough team for us to beat so we know what that is going to be like. And Detroit's Detroit. They're the same way every game. You know they're going to play hard and bring their work ethic. For us, we have to focus on the task at hand and be excited for these games."
It will take more than just excitement to beat the Canadiens.
"Hopefully [Wednesday] is one of those games that we come out and play a real strong game because they're a team that really plays well defensively," Julien said. "Their goaltender [Carey Price] has been good and in their D-zone they really smother you. They sit back and make it hard for you to get some great scoring opportunities.
"But they're also a team that the minute you give them a little bit of space to score, they have enough skill to do that," Julien added. "We have to be prepared for that, be patient and not make mistakes by starting to throw pucks away because they'll make you pay for it."
Montreal has proven that three times already this year, but the Bruins are confident they can avoid that fate a fourth time on Wednesday.
"We have to play a strong game," Julien said. "We feel that our game that we play when it's at its best should be good enough to beat them."