TD Garden will play host Thursday night to the latest installment in one of the more unlikely rivalries in professional sports.
The Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks had little history with one another heading into the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. The teams had never met in a playoff series, and under the NHL’s old scheduling format, they’d played each other just once per season, typically during a nondescript road trip through Western Canada.
Then, “The Bite” happened, and Bruins-Canucks turned into B’s-Canadiens, Celtics-Lakers and Red Sox-Yankees, all rolled into one.
Alexandre Burrows’ decision to chomp down on Patrice Bergeron’s gloved finger during the first period of Game 1 kicked off the wildest, most entertaining Stanley Cup Final in recent memory, the aftereffects of which still linger to this day.
Games 1, 2 and 5, all played at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena, were tight, one-goal affairs, lean on both scoring and after-the-whistle shenanigans, while Games 3, 4 and 6 in Boston were brawl-filled blowouts, with the Bruins winning all three by a combined score of 17-3.
The home team won each of the first six contests before Boston broke the trend in the deciding Game 7, going on the road and torching Roberto Luongo in a 4-0 rout that clinched Boston’s first Stanley Cup in 39 years.
The Bruins and Canucks combined to rack up 339 penalty minutes over the seven games, the most in a Stanley Cup Final since at least 1988 (as far back as Hockey-Reference’s SCF stats go). The four Cup Finals since featured a total of 351 PIMs. In fact, only three Cup Finals since 1988 have even come within 100 PIMs of that B’s-Canucks series: Lightning-Flames in 2004 (262), Penguins-North Stars in 1991 (309) and Flames-Canadiens in 1989 (298).
Game 3 alone featured a whopping 143 penalty minutes, more than the total for 16 of the last 25 Cup Finals.
That was five years ago. Boston and Vancouver have met just six times since, and many of the key instigators in the historically contentious 2011 Final (Luongo, Tim Thomas, Ryan Kesler, Shawn Thornton, Aaron Rome, etc.) now are playing their hockey elsewhere.
Yet Bruins-Canucks matchups continue to be must-watch affairs, despite the fact just 13 of the players who saw action in the series still are with their respective teams. How long will that continue? A fair guess would be, for as long as Brad Marchand is wearing black and gold.
Marchand, who led the B’s with five goals in the Cup Final and was tied for the team lead with 22 PIMs, has been at the center of nearly every notable incident between the two teams since 2012.
There was the low hit on Sami Salo that earned him a five-game suspension, the infamous “kiss the ring/Cup” taunts during Boston’s first trip back to Rogers Arena and even spear to the groin he absorbed earlier this season from Brandon Prust, who was not a member of the 2010-11 Canucks but is very familiar with Marchand from his time with the Montreal Canadiens.
It’s likely that just nine alumni of the 2011 Cup Final will be on the ice Thursday in Boston, potentially 10 if Bruins center David Krejci is healthy enough to return from the upper body injury that’s sidelined him since late December. That number will continue to dwindle over the coming years, and barring another meeting on hockey’s biggest stage, the NHL’s most improbable rivalry likely will fade into memory.
But until then, buckle up.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images