When the National Hockey League returned from its labour squabble-induced one-year hiatus in 2004, it heralded a new era of equality buttressed by a salary cap and revenue sharing designed to keep all 30 clubs on something like an even keel.
While that promise has largely been kept — entering Saturday's action 22 teams were within five points of a playoff spot — the concept of parity does not apply to the relationship between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins.
Montreal will try for an eight-game season sweep over its Northeast Division rival when the teams meet Saturday night at the Bell Centre (CBC, 7 p.m. ET).
The Canadiens, though, will have to do it without Mike Komisarek after announcing Saturday that the stalwart defenceman is out at least three weeks with a lower body injury sustained in Thursday's win in Boston.
The Canadiens, who have won 10 straight over Boston dating back to last season, have also beaten the Bruins in 11 of the last 12 meetings in Montreal.
How significant is the Habs' dominance over their longtime rivals? If their head-to-head matchups didn't count, the Bruins (37-28-9) would have five more points than Montreal (41-24-10) this season. However, the Canadiens' seven regulation wins against Boston have them fighting for the top seed in the East, while the eighth-place Bruins are battling four teams for the final two playoff spots.
Montreal, which has outscored Boston 36-14 this season, can trace its success against the Bruins back to the 2003-04 playoffs. Since the B's took a 3-1 lead in a first-round series they eventually lost (thanks largely to the absurd play of then-Habs goalie Jose Theodore), they are 4-22-0 — including the post-season — in head-to-heads.
Saturday's game is the back end of a home-and-home set, as Montreal won 4-2 on Thursday. At the Bell Centre, the Bruins have lost six straight and been shut out four times in their last 10 trips.
The 10-game winning streak matches the Canadiens' longest in franchise history against the Bruins — a mark set during the 1944-45 season.
"The onus is on us to change this," Bruins defenceman Aaron Ward said following Thursday's loss. "It sounds bad to say, but I thought we were better against them tonight. Shame on us if we are not ready for them on Saturday."
Thomas terrible against Habs
Alex Kovalev had two goals and an assist Thursday and rookie Carey Price stopped 34 shots, including all of Boston's attempts in the first period when the Bruins outshot the Canadiens 15-6.
Kovalev has seven goals and four assists against Boston this season, while Price has won all four of his starts against them with a 2.25 goals-against average. Boston's Tim Thomas, meanwhile, is 0-4-0 with a 4.76 GAA versus Montreal this season.
"Some teams just play well against other teams, and that's just the way it goes," Price said.
The Bruins haven't been bad only against Montreal of late. Boston has won just once in its last six games and twice in its last 10, scoring 14 goals over that span.
Even stalwart defenceman Zdeno Chara's return from a five-game injury absence didn't help Boston on Thursday. The Bruins have outshot seven of their last 10 opponents and averaged 33 shots on goal during that span, but converted just over four per cent of those shots.
"I can't put the puck in the net for the players," Boston coach, and former Habs bench boss, Claude Julien said. "Somewhere in that dressing room someone has to have goals in them."
Montreal, locked in a tight race with New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Ottawa for the East's top seed, has alternated wins and losses in its last seven games. It's looking for consecutive wins for the first time since March 6-8.