The Garden was electric as the intensity of the ancient rivalry was ratcheted up a few notches to the delight of the capacity crowd, and the events of the night remained the talk of the town the following day as discussion of a game that featured 12 fighting majors and 14 goals dominated the airwaves and water coolers of a region.
It's the kind of buzz that's been tough for the league to generate as it competes against the NFL, MLB and NBA to attract the attention of sports fans beyond the game's loyal following. But hardcore hockey fans and casual observers alike couldn't help but be drawn in by the drama on display when the Bruins and Habs unleashed their hate upon each other.
And the Bruins were more than happy to revel in the extra attention at Thursday's practice.
"Perfect, buzz away," Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton said. "Keep coming. Keep cheering. I'm a pretty old-school individual. You obviously can't do it every night, but when it's a heated rivalry and things happen, then we took care of it."
That game, combined with last week's equally wild win over Dallas that opened with three fights in the first four seconds of the contest, have helped the Bruins gain even more prominence in the local sports scene that was already on the rise with the club's turnaround the last few seasons.
It opened a few eyes inside the locker room as well, as first-year Bruin Greg Campbell was amazed by the atmosphere after spending the first five seasons of his NHL career in Florida.
"I'm enjoying it a lot," Campbell said. "I've never had a crowd behind us like that. I've never had these intense rivalries before. As a hockey player, I think that's what you want. You want that intensity. You want when you come to the rink that every game is important. Games like that are fun to play in. It's easy to get up for games like that. That's playoff hockey, and I've never experienced that before. It's fun to play and I'm getting used to it."
These kind of fight-filled games do more than just get the fans and players excited though. They can have a real effect on a team's fortunes, as standing up for each other in a brawl can bring a team together. The Bruins witnessed that firsthand when their first fight-filled game with Dallas in 2008 kick-started a 24-2-1 run that vaulted the Bruins to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. This year, another donnybrook with Atlanta in December snapped Boston out of a 1-3-1 skid and started the 14-5-3 run the club is on now.
"I think it's important for a team to have what you hear referred to as team toughness and guys sticking up for each other," Campbell said. "That's a rivalry [between Boston and Montreal] that goes back ages and obviously it's two teams that don't really like each other. The most important thing is that you have to play with emotion, but you can't lose yourself to the extent where the game and winning is an afterthought. You have to play within yourself and use that emotion for your team. I think that was the case in a lot of areas [Wednesday] night."
A full return to the days of the Big, Bad Bruins will never happen. The rules in place in today's game wouldn't allow that level of anarchy on the ice, or in the stands when Mike Milbury and Co. were involved. But even the "new NHL" can still have a little color to it, and it's OK if that color occasionally includes a little crimson on the ice.
"It's a pretty different game now," Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said. "Hockey now is bigger and tougher than it's ever been. There might have been some more crazy stuff back in the day, but if we did some of the stuff they did we'd probably end up in jail. We can't get away with some of the antics, but when you talk about body checking and some of the guys fighting, the size of the guys in the locker room, hockey and this team itself is as big and as bad as it's ever been."
It sure seemed that way on Wednesday, and that's something the NHL needs to show every once in a while.
Are games like the Bruins' wild win over the Canadiens on Wednesday good for the game and the teams involved? Share your thoughts below.
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