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Devolving debate

April 12, 2011

Wardrobe malfunction.

“Je ne dirais pas que les joueurs du Canadien ont peur, je dirais toutefois qu’ils sont prudents.” –Michel Bergeron of RDS

The media melee ahead of Thursday night’s opener between the Bruins and Canadiens began a week ago. But now, it’s just entered a phase of silliness at best, offensiveness at worst.

Take this gem from NESN that includes a poll on how many diving penalties the Habs will take. If ever there was an example of how people can abuse this rivalry, this is it. Of course, the piece could have been written in jest, but it was written by the senior assistant editor on new media for NESN, so I question this. Looking to see how discourse is unfolding north of the border, I took my French skills to Le Journal de Montreal and TV rights carrier RDS.

Immediately I realized it wasn’t fair to compare Le Journal de Montreal against NESN, or RDS against the Globe. The traditional bulwarks aren’t apt to enter into such nonsense. I searched high and low, and couldn’t find anything of the sort. Montreal Canadiens take a more self-deprecating approach when it comes to the big rivalry, it seems. Their energy is direct inwards, not outwards. Interestingly enough, two commentators, Michel Bergeron and Mario Tremblay, have the Bruins winning in six. I try not to lend too much credence to such predictions, and after reading Ken Campbell of The Hockey News’s odds this morning (Habs in seven), paying any attention at all will only muddle the psyche. Anything can happen each year in the playoffs, anything. The Canadiens were a supreme example of that last year, eliminating the Capitals and Penguins with gusto in seven games a piece. Anything can happen.

But what do Bergeron and Tremblay have to say on the matter? Bergeron boils it down to the sheer physical size of the Bruins. I know last year the Habs were statistically the “shortest team in the league” in terms of average height, and that may still be true. But among Bruins fans, there is always talk of how they’re small and speedy and skilled–it’s nearly viewed positively when coupled with their other prowess. The Habs are a formidable team, to be sure. But over the course of seven games, not one, the Bruins’ physical stature, with Lucic, Horton, Chara and others, the Habs could be ground down. He goes so far as to advise the Habs be careful. Bergeron worries about the lingering psychological effects the six games played over the regular season have had on Canadiens, too. He praises Claude Julien and the Bruins’ top-line. Tremblay attributes his conclusion to a number of factors, the most significant of which is the many injuries of the Habs have suffered and the relative health of the Bruins. He is disheartened by the Bruins’ resounding 7-0 win and just what that demonstrated in terms of the Canadiens’ ability to rebound after adversity. Moreover, the Bruins are just hungrier, more desperate, this year.

When all is said and done, expectations are elevated and depressed accordingly on both sides of the border. But really, no one knows until the puck drops Thursday night.

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