The Box Score is a series in which we select one impressive box score, do all sorts of historical research, watch the game if we can find it, and write about it. It has a complementary podcast called – you got it – The Box Score Show.
Fourteen goals, 12 fighting majors, 182 penalty minutes and a goalie fight at center ice. When the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens met at TD Garden on Feb., 9 2011, it brought out the best and the very worst in two of hockey’s most storied franchises.
The final result, an 8-6 Bruins win, would have serious implications not only on the race for that season’s Northeast Division title but on the forthcoming Stanley Cup playoffs where the pair would once again meet two months down the line. The bloodied matchup would also see two Vezina-winning goaltenders capitulate into disarray, the fastest seven-goal scoring spree in the history of this rivalry and three players leave the ice with a +5 plus/minus on the night.
“No one is going to ask for a refund after this game,” home announcer Jack Edwards gasped as one of many memorable lines from the broadcast booth as the drama unfolded.
But to fully appreciate the ‘Battle of TD Garden’ that erupted on that cold February evening in eastern Massachusetts, we first have to set the scene.
Since the days of the NHL’s original six, these two sides have been sworn cross-border enemies. It’s a rivalry defined by a history of hatred that began in 1929 when the two first clashed in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the year most closely associated with the infamous stock market crash, these combatants first locked horns and in truth, they haven’t looked back since.
March 17, 1955 saw the Richard Riot. The violence originally stemming from a severe high-sticking call against Bruin Hal Laycoe on Canadiens Hall-of-Famer ace Maurice Richard four days prior. Richard was suspended for the rest of the season and the following playoffs for punching linesman Cliff Thompson in the ensuing melee. The commotion ended in 37 injuries and 100 arrests in downtown Montreal.
Despite that suspension, the Canadiens continued on with their 18-series winning streak over the Bruins in the postseason, a streak that lasted all the way from 1946 to 1988. Boston responded with playoff dominance from 1990 -94, but as the years passed from there, the two began to meet with less frequency after the regular season, in part thanks to the ever-expanding NHL.
The long-simmering tension finally erupted again though as the rivals battled for supremacy in the old Northeast Division a decade ago.
Coming into the Feb. 9, 2011 matchup, Boston held a two-point lead over their Canadian rivals, but the Habs were 3-0 up in the season series.
There were other storylines in play. Brad Marchand and P.K. Subban were still feuding over the Montreal defenseman’s massive open ice hit on the Bruin’s forward in their second game earlier in the same season, while Boston center David Krejci was eager to bemoan to the media, “These little guys, they play like that – little elbows.”
Edwards, as the final moments of the game are paused as fighting majors and misconducts are handed out on ice littered with hockey equipment, says, “This is one of the longest, most ink-stained score sheets we’ve seen in a long, long time.”
Ink, yes. But he forgot to mention the blood.
The First Period
From the opening faceoff, it was clear to those watching on that this was going to be a tough, feisty encounter as players were keen to finish their checks. The energy was up and the crowd was devoted to producing an electric atmosphere at TD Garden.
It only took 4 minutes and 29 seconds for the first clash to occur. Despite an offside stoppage, Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg whistled a shot toward goal that Subban took exception to. Referees Don Van Massenhoven and Brian Pochmara quickly broke up the impending altercation.
Subban is of particular interest in this rivalry. The Montreal defenseman, a second-round draft pick back in 2007, was his club’s star young player at the time and a real antagonist towards the Boston faithful. Despite his subsequent moves to the Nashville Predators and the New Jersey Devils since, his name is still jeered when announced pre-game by some in Boston. This was only his fourth career game against Boston, but already he had managed to get under the skin of various Bruin’s players with his speedy, physical and confident style of hockey. His two points on the night, one goal and one primary assist, proved a glimmer of positive news for the Canadiens despite Subban finishing with a plus/minus of -3.
The breakthrough on the scoreboard came at 13:16 from Boston’s Brad Marchand, a player then in his first full NHL season. Center Patrice Bergeron slapped a pass towards the crease and as Price went to cover his right post, Marchand whipped the puck to his backhand to finish into an empty Montreal net.
Within 12 seconds, it was two. Seidenberg this time converting from close range as he batted the puck home from mid-air.
The penalty minutes would begin to flow soon after. Twenty-four to be precise. Boston’s Milan Lucic, one of the league’s toughest customers and a player who recently played in his 1,000th NHL game, and Montreal’s Carey Price traded roughing penalties. Habs winger Travis Moen was hit with a 10-minute misconduct call at the same time and just like that, the stage was set for a dramatic second period.
The Second Period
If the first period was an appetiser of what was to come, then the second period was the main course, and the goals were filling enough.
Eight goals were netted, four for each side with seven of those falling in just 6:19 of action midway through the second period, a record seven-goal spree between the two. It was also the fastest seven-goal stint league-wide since January 6, 1990 (Flyers-Blackhawks, 4:40) and hasn’t been surpassed since.
It gets even more impressive than that though, as amazingly four goals, Boston’s fourth and fifth of the game and Montreal’s third and fourth, came in a mind-boggling 1:47 as two All-Star goaltenders capitulated.
In terms of NHL history, since this game, only four times has a period seen more goals scored. And it’s one of only seven times in the last 20 seasons in which both teams have scored 4+ goals in the same period.
On the more physical side of things, a line brawl broke out at 12:36 in the second that would leave the penalty boxes overflowing. A late hit by Marchand, who should have let up for an icing call, on Hab’s defenseman James Wisniewski this time proving to be the catalyst. ‘The big bad Bruins’ as the team would be coined in newspapers the day after, were dominating their rivals on the scoreboard and on the ice in more ways than one.
As the commercials began to roll, the commentary would sound off with, “This is not good for the blood pressure but it sure is good if you’re a hockey fan.”
Surprisingly, just as it seemed the tension could only further escalate on the ice, the game instead seemed to strangely head towards a lull until the horn rang for the end of the second period. Boston were still ahead 6-4 and Montreal still had a mountain to climb.
In the mess of that period, there were at least other personal accolades achieved. League veteran Brian Gionta scored his 200th career NHL goal as he finished into a near empty net as the teams skated 4-on-4.
The Third Period
Despite sharing four more goals in the third period, the hockey understandably felt distracted. Only 14 shots on target were attempted collectively compared to the 27 registered in the previous 20-minute stint.
The second line brawl of the game with 49 seconds left on the clock in the game saw Boston’s Johnny Boychuk, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton and Andrew Ference all kicked from the game for fighting. Canadien’s Jaroslav Spacek, Travis Moen, Roman Hamrlik and Tom Pyatt, who left the ice most bloodied and bruised, all followed suit at the same time. Between them, the two sides had combined for 12 fighting majors on the evening.
For perspective, since then only one NHL game has had 12+ fighting majors, that coming a mere two days after this clash as the Penguins and Islanders went to war on February 11, 2011 with 15.
By the time Montreal’s Max Pacioretty had rounded off the scoring with a sweet snipe on the power play with 14 seconds left, 182 penalty minutes had been dished out by the officials who quite understandably looked exhausted as the final horn sounded.
In the clash, the two clubs picked up a staggering amount of penalty minutes between them, the most in a Bruins game since 1998 and the most in a Canadiens game since 1992.
To compound the misery, Montreal had scored four times on the power play in a game yet still lost. It stands as the only time that’s happened in franchise history.
“There’s something about Montreal that brings out the best in the Boston Bruins,” Edwards signed off with.
Two of the most interesting lines of the box score are those of Carey Price and Tim Thomas, the two goaltenders who allowed 14 tallies between them on 67 shots.
Context is important here. Coming into this clash, Price had won six in a row against the Bruins with a .956 save percentage to match across that stint. Thomas was 7-2-0 in his previous nine starts in the league, including two shutouts for a .948 SV% himself. The latter would go on to win the Vezina Trophy that season, , the second of his career with the Bruins.
But for both, February 9, 2011 proved a real anomaly.
Price finished the night with a .765 SV%, the sixth-worst figure over a 60-minute appearance of his illustrious career that has now stretched to nearly 700 games with the Habs.
Thomas didn’t fare much better. This was his second-worst showing over a full game in his entire career, his worst coming in 2007 when the Ottawa Senators put six past him on just 28 shots.
The two actually met at center ice for a ‘fight’ in that line brawl in the second period. With the larger scuffle ensuing along the boards behind the Montreal goal, Thomas sauntered up the ice to challenge his opposite number and the pair wrestled. As the Bruins goaltender clawed at Price’s shoulder, the Canadien swung a big right hander but missed despite his reach advantage, and the two fell to the ice. Neither would fight again in their careers.
“We were play-fighting more than anything,” Price said.
The Three Stars
Three Bruins were unsurprisingly named as the three stars of the match.
Michael Ryder, drafted by Montreal back in 1998, claimed the third star for his two-goal game.
Fellow forward Milan Lucic earned second star after his action-packed performance. The Vancouver native walked off the ice with three points (2G, 1A) and a career-best +5 plus/minus. The power forward would also contribute to his side’s lengthy penalty minute haul with 16, though he’s suprassed that four times and matched it once.
But the game’s first star was Nathan Horton. The Bruins winger had a career-best five points (1G, 4A) with a +5 plus/minus. The 2003 third overall pick never matched those marks in his 627 NHL appearances, and a back injury ended his playing career in April 2014.
The Rest of the Season
The Bruins extended their Northeast Division lead and went on to win it over the Canadiens by seven points.
The pair met again in the playoffs in April. A grueling seven-game series followed that mirrored the trajectory of the regular season series: Montreal lead 2-0 before Boston powered back to win Game 7 in overtime courtesy of Horton’s slapshot from the top of the slot.
From there, the Bruins swept the Philadelphia Flyers and bested the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven to with the East before overcoming the Vancouver Canucks in seven in the Stanley Cup Finals to claim the cup for the first time in 39 long years.
It was only the second time Boston had gone through Montreal in the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup in 34 attempts.
This stands as the last time two NHL teams met 13 times in a season. It ended with seven Montreal wins, or, from Boston’s perspective: six wins, six losses and one OT loss. The Bruins outscored the Canadiens 39-37, despite being outscored 15-3 on the power play.
Research by Stats Perform’s Tim Bazer and Jacob Jaffe. Design by Matt Sisneros. Animations by Paul Connors.