Jack Todd: The Bruins can’t stop chasing the Road Runner

 

 
 
 
 
MONTREAL, QUE.: OCTOBER 16, 2014 -- Montreal Canadiens celebrates his game-winning goale against the  Boston Bruins during third period of National Hockey League game in Montreal Thursday October 16, 2014.  (John Mahoney / THE GAZETTE)
 
 

MONTREAL, QUE.: OCTOBER 16, 2014 -- Montreal Canadiens celebrates his game-winning goale against the Boston Bruins during third period of National Hockey League game in Montreal Thursday October 16, 2014. (John Mahoney / THE GAZETTE)

Photograph by: JOHN MAHONEY, Montreal Gazette

As Milan Lucic went into his third-period meltdown against the Canadiens Thursday, it hit me.

There was Lucic, the dynamite having blown up in his face, his whiskers singed, looking for all the world like Wile E. Coyote after he has failed, for the 999th consecutive time, to corral the Road Runner. As Lucic went into his silly lewd gesture and hoist-the-Stanley Cup routine, that Canadiens Road Runner (in the person of Alexei Emelin this time) was tossing a “beep-beep” over his shoulder as he skated away with yet another win.

It doesn’t hurt that one of the greatest players in Montreal history, the speedy Yvan Cournoyer, was nicknamed the Roadrunner, because it’s been like this for decades: Coyote and Road Runner, the matador and the bull, David and Goliath.

And more often than not, the Bruins play right into the hands of the Canadiens. They see that fluttering red cape with the CH logo, and they lower their heads and charge.

Why don’t they ever learn? Well, if there is such a thing as wanting to win too much, the Bruins do. They have decades of paranoia wired into their system. They have lost so many times, in so many ways, that they buy into all that Don Cherry “da game is rigged” nonsense, and they end up finding new and creative ways to lose.

Fans here will never buy into this, but Lucic is an intelligent, thoughtful, complex guy. But put a CH jersey in front of him and his Mexican combo platter is about a taco short. Claude Julien might do well to bench him next time out, because in his zeal to turn some unlucky Hab into roadkill on the highway of life, Lucic inevitably trips over his own skate laces and makes a fool of himself.

It’s all part of what has to be the greatest rivalry in North American sports at this juncture in history: the Habs vs. the Bruins.

Celtics-Lakers? They’re both lousy. Red Wings-Blackhawks? They no longer play in the same division, and within a couple of seasons Habs-Bruins will overtake them in total games played. Jets-Patriots? You can’t have a rivalry when one team is great and the other stinks. Habs-Leafs? They hate each other, but they haven’t met in the playoffs for 35 years. Yankees-Red Sox? The rivalry is still alive, but a few more seasons like the summer of 2014 and it won’t be.

Which leaves us with the Canadiens and the Bruins. Every time they meet, even when there isn’t much on the line, the two great rivals seem to turn in a memorable game. Even an early-season matchup that doesn’t mean a whole lot one way or another turns into a barnburner. There are always plots and subplots, controversies and blown calls, nasty hits and amazing goals.

Boston Bruins’ Milan Lucic reacts as he is escorted off the ice by linesman Michel Cormier after receiving a minor penalty late in a game against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Oct. 16, 2014. The Canadiens beat the Bruins 6-4.

For reasons that defy statistical analysis, the Canadiens come out on top in these confrontations more often than not, even when the Bruins appear to be the better team. It’s no wonder that the Bruins come into Montreal frothing at the mouth. They don’t simply want to skate away with a forgettable 3-2 win — they want to smash Montreal heads into the ice, dominate the Habs, beat them 16-0 and somehow erase almost seven decades of humiliation in a single night.

They bring their cases of Acme dynamite, their Acme Giant Hammer Road Runner Smasher, their Acme rocket ship designed to hurl the Road Runner into outer space. And at the end of the night, there they are, burned and embarrassed, staring forlornly out at the audience as the Road Runner beep-beeps over the horizon.

At some point, you’d think the Bruins would learn, that they would emulate the example of the cooler heads in their lineup (notably Patrice Bergeron), damp down the emotions and play for the win. But they want it too much.

Lucic is not the only one who acts like a fool when he sees the CH: Brad Marchand (who has long since ceded his title as the league’s top pest to Brendan Gallagher) can always be counted on to do something stupid. Even Zdeno Chara, that man-mountain of a player, loses it and drives Max Pacioretty’s head into a stanchion for no reason at all.

(The most remarkable play of Thursday night’s game was not Lucic’s silly hit on Emelin, but Gallagher, standing in front of the Bruins net before he scored the goal that put the Habs up 5-3, not moving an inch as he was whacked by the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Chara. In that moment, Gallagher proved that he has the lower-body strength to match his cat-burglar guts.)

When you have the kind of history the Bruins have against the Habs, you have to find a way to change your fortunes. For the better part of this millennium, Boston has been the better regular-season team but they have little to show for it, in part because they are so often upset in the playoffs by their bitter rivals. Even in 2011, the year they won the Stanley Cup, the Bruins were within an overtime bounce in Game 7 of losing in the opening round to the Canadiens and a very young Carey Price.

Now the Bruins have lost Johnny Boychuk and Jarome Iginla to the salary cap, and the Canadiens have improved a bit, perhaps enough to be slightly the better team. All the more reason that Boston has to damp the fires, stop chasing the Road Runner and learn to settle for a mere win, rather than attempting to render the Habs extinct.

It has to start with Lucic. He and Julien could howl all they wanted about that penalty for the hit on Emelin, but when you threaten to kill a guy in the handshake line at the end of a playoff series, you have to know you’re going to be a marked man the next time you meet and the officials are going to blow the whistle every time you skate too near the line.

It’s not really a difficult lesson. But it’s one the Bruins appear incapable of learning.

jacktodd46@yahoo.com

Twitter: jacktodd46

 
 
 
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MONTREAL, QUE.: OCTOBER 16, 2014 -- Montreal Canadiens celebrates his game-winning goale against the  Boston Bruins during third period of National Hockey League game in Montreal Thursday October 16, 2014.  (John Mahoney / THE GAZETTE)
 

MONTREAL, QUE.: OCTOBER 16, 2014 -- Montreal Canadiens celebrates his game-winning goale against the Boston Bruins during third period of National Hockey League game in Montreal Thursday October 16, 2014. (John Mahoney / THE GAZETTE)

Photograph by: JOHN MAHONEY, Montreal Gazette

 
MONTREAL, QUE.: OCTOBER 16, 2014 -- Montreal Canadiens celebrates his game-winning goale against the  Boston Bruins during third period of National Hockey League game in Montreal Thursday October 16, 2014.  (John Mahoney / THE GAZETTE)
Boston Bruins' Milan Lucic reacts as he is escorted off the ice by linesman Michel Cormier after receiving a minor penalty in the final seconds of their game against the Montreal Canadiens during NHL hockey action Thursday, October 16, 2014 in Montreal. The Canadiens beat the Bruins 6-4.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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