Historical Perspective On Boston-Montreal Playoff Series

So I'm watching the Bruins-Canadiens playoff series and I'm much gratified to see the latest incarnation of the Big, Bad Bruins having their way with (so far) the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge, even up in Montreal. Pushing Montreal to a game 7 last year was a great effort but there's been tremendous progress this year, with the two teams reversing their positions; Boston now first in the East and favored to win over the eighth-seeded Habs.

A lot of columnists have, of course, dug out the history books to talk about this storied rivalry; how the two teams have met more in the NHL playoffs than any two other franchises (32 times including this year) and how in the 31 series to date, Montreal holds a commanding lead (24 to 7 all-time) and how Montreal won the last three in a row (2002, 2004 and 2008) even though last year's was by the skin of their teeth in a series that nobody expected to go to seven games against a Boston team that was not quite as deep or as talented as this year's club.

However, what few writers seem to have pointed out is exactly how much of those stastics are ancient history, from a time when none of today's players or coaches were even alive, when the equipment, the players, the buildings, and the game were all substantially different. Compare videos of today's game to footage from Boston's last two Cups in the early 70s and you'll see what I mean; it's the same game only in name and in the grossest possible sense.

So let's look at those historical results courtesy of Wikipedia.

Boston won the first series back in 1928-29 but Montreal won 20 of the next 21, 14 in a row, to compile a 20-2 record from then up until 1987. Of those meetings, seven of those were before divisional realignment and were actually Stanley Cup Final games. So while Montreal certainly had an edge in those days, there is little to be ashamed about in being the second best team. It may not be enough, it may not be something to brag about, but certainly the gap between winner and runner-up is not the same thing as the gap between winner and DNQ.

However, this is all ancient history. 1987 was 22 years ago. For a fair comparison of the two franchises in the playoffs, let's just look at the last 20 years, in which the teams met ten times (including this year) of which Boston has won five series (1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1994) while Montreal won four (1989, 2002, 2004, and 2008's 7-game squeaker).

If the B's go on to win one game in the next four chances, they'll take a 6-4 edge in the series' last ten meetings.

What ghosts?