Bye-bye Boston; next New York
By Andy Blatchford and Peter Rakobowchuk, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL - With the Boston Bruins eliminated in a Game 7 nail-biter, Montreal Canadiens fans wasted little time in turning their attention to the team's next opponent: the New York Rangers.
Fans were jubilant Wednesday night, jamming into the downtown core to celebrate their hockey heroes moving a step closer to their first Stanley Cup in 21 years.
Many of the revellers on Ste-Catherine Street looked young enough to have been in daycare when goaltender Patrick Roy inspired the Canadiens to glory in 1993.
Police appeared ready for trouble on Wednesday, controlling the largely festive crowd and making just five arrests three hours after the game had ended — three for municipal violations and two for alleged assault on officers.
As well as the spillout crowd from jam-packed bars, the fans included many of the 21,000 people who invaded the Bell Centre to watch the Habs' 3-1 victory in Boston on giant screens.
Pardeep Mann watched the celebration from a Ste-Catherine Street sidewalk.
"It unites everyone," he said.
"We're all here for one thing: it's the Canadiens. They're our heroes, they're our players and we're winning. It's just fun being part of winning. It doesn't happen a lot in Montreal, so it's fun."
Mann expects the crowds to get bigger and bigger the deeper the Habs go into the playoffs, beginning with the Canadiens' series against the Rangers. That showdown starts in Montreal on Saturday afternoon.
"If we reach the (Stanley) Cup finals — New York's a very good team — it's going to be huge," he said. "It's going to be very huge."
Pierre-Marc Lambert described the victory against Boston as "the best game ever!"
He predicted the Canadiens will now defeat the Rangers in the Eastern Conference final to reach the Stanley Cup.
Fahad Syed, 21, a Habs fan since he was seven, described the win as an "amazing experience — especially beating the best team in the NHL."
Even at least one non-Montrealer was thrilled.
"I'm really happy to see Montreal win because I'm a fan of the Original Six," said Gene Krokosz, 62, who was visiting Montreal from Chicago.
"I'm a Blackhawks fan."
Krokosz said he thought Montreal deserved to defeat the Bruins.
"They put on a great performance, they outplayed Boston," he said.
As the game wound down, even Montreal police officers stationed on Ste-Catherine Street pumped their fists in celebratory manner.
Outside the Bell Centre after the game, someone put a Bruins jersey on a hockey stick and set it on fire as people began stomping on it.
Riot police intervened immediately and hauled it away while a raucous crowd continued cheering and screaming, "We Want the Cup."
Some fans set off fireworks, while others stood on people's shoulders and chanted the names of players as police guarded stores on Ste-Catherine.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper hailed Montreal's victory with a tweet: "Great to see a Canadian team finally take out the Bruins in a game 7."
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau tweeted, "Bravo les boys!"
The Bell Centre was a sea of red, white and blue during the decisive match as fans took advantage of $10 tickets to watch the game 500 kilometres away.
Some of the proceeds were destined for a Canadiens charity fund for children.
There were reports of people selling tickets for $50 in the hours leading up to the game.
Mario Trudelle attended the game with his wife, their two children and three other kids.
Everyone in the gang was wearing a Canadiens top except one young Bruins fan.
"We accept everybody," said Trudelle, who predicted a 4-2 Montreal victory.
Team spokesman Donald Beauchamp said the tickets sold out in two hours.
The peaceful denouement was in stark contrast to the scene in 2010 after fans at the Bell Centre watched the Canadiens eliminate the Penguins in a game played in Pittsburgh.
Mayhem ensued in downtown Montreal that night, with store windows smashed and rioters clashing with police.
Police have beefed up their playoff presence in recent years and always have a strong visibility downtown before and after games, particularly for series-deciding matchups.