Hockey's oldest and arguably fiercest rivalry usually brings out the best, or worst depending on your perspective, out of the two Original Six clubs whenever they collide on the ice.
But Thursday night it was different. Something was off as the Habs paid their final visit of the season to the Garden. Maybe it was because it seems almost certain that this will be the final meeting here this year as the slumping Canadiens appear extremely unlucky to make the postseason.
Maybe it's because the Bruins invested so much emotion in Saturday's Cup Final rematch with Vancouver, the club which has threatened to take over as Boston's most hated rival with its antics in last year's Cup and throughout the past week. But whatever the cause or combination of causes, Thursday was definitely not a normal matchup with Montreal.
"[It's] a little bit of both," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "We never take any team or any game lightly and we didn't go into this game with a lack of emotion. It just seemed like the pace of the game had kind of an awkward flow to it and I think that's what made it the way that it was."
The way it was certainly was different than past meetings. Both teams struggled not just to muster the usual animosity they have for each other, but also had a hard time just completing basic hockey plays. Turnovers abounded, missed passes were abundant and even the scoring plays were sloppy.
Jordan Caron scored 1:23 in when a Johnny Boychuk dump-in hit off a stanchion, and things never go well for the Canadiens when things hit stanchions. The puck bounced to the front of the net, where Caron tapped it into the open cage with goalie Carey Price behind the net expecting the puck to wrap around the boards.
"That was the only easy part of the first two periods, that was for sure," Lucic said.
"It seemed like both teams really weren't that sharp with their passing," Lucic added. "It seemed like the puck was spinning all over the place and it was jumping off everyone's sticks. [There were] a lot of blocked shots, a lot of shots that missed the net. Just one of those games that you just had to fight through to get to the end and hopefully get the result. For us, I don't think it was our best effort, but we found a way to win."
They just never found that usual Boston-Montreal energy.
"There was some of it," Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said. "This is more a mid-season regular-season game against the Canadiens, whereas when we played against them in the playoffs last year and playing again close to the beginning of the season it's still fresh. And let's be honest, they are having their own difficulties down there, Montreal is. I think that's probably affecting their willingness to get chippy because they probably don't have a very good feeling down there right now."
The Habs are definitely having their difficulties. They are now 3-8-0 since firing coach Jacques Martin last month, and that record is only the secondary complaint about interim coach Randy Cunneyworth, who has drawn the wrath of the Montreal fans because he does not speak French.
Forward Michael Cammalleri stirred controversy on Wednesday with a different kind of speech, calling out the team for having a losing mentality. In response, Cammalleri was traded to Calgary — during Thursday's game. He played 12 shifts totaling 9:02 in the first two periods and was gone before the start of the third.
"They've got a lot going on right now, and I think their situation is a little bit different," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Again, it takes two teams to engage, right? And right now, I think they've got other things on their minds. I haven't felt the same energy, but yet the results of the game are very similar, so when we do beat them, we don't beat them by much, and vice-versa. But certainly, it probably doesn't have the same flare it had maybe a year ago."
There was one spark late in the third when Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban hit David Krejci up high with an elbow, which brought Andrew Ference in quickly with the gloves off. Montreal scored on the ensuing power play, but the Bruins hung on for the 2-1 win with a little more life in the building and on the ice in the closing minutes.
"That definitely got things going a bit more," Lucic said. "But it was a weird game. The fans were into it before the games started and doing their best to try to stay in it, but on the ice it was a weird game because it didn't seem like anyone was getting in anyone's face. It was just kind of like, one shot and break out, then the other team came down and one shot. It was one of those type of games.
"It almost had an awkward feel to it," Lucic added. "You've got to do whatever you can to get yourself emotionally involved. I don't think the rivalry will ever die down. It will always be there because of the past history. You can just feel it in the crowd. But tonight it definitely had a bit of an awkward feel to it. We play them one more time and you can never sell the Bell Centre fans short, so we'll see."