May 8, 2014 9:32 am

A Habs fan on a pilgrimage to hockey mecca Montreal

WATCH: The Bell Centre is set aflame during the pre-game ceremony at game 3 between the Habs and Bruins

It’s springtime in Montreal. The snow is gone, the flowers are blooming.  But, for Montreal Canadiens fans, spring means only one thing: Playoff hockey. And there is nothing better than playoff hockey in Montreal.

My gear for game 3 in Montreal.

Kevin Buffitt

Add in the Habs’ arch-enemy, the Boston Bruins, 15 friends, a trip to Montreal for Game 3 and you’ve got playoff magic.

Every season the Habs make the post-season, my Canadiens-crazy friends and I make it our mission to make the pilgrimage to hockey’s mecca for a playoff game.  We have been witnesses to many playoff highs and lows, mainly lows, over the last few years.

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We don’t have a great track record when it comes to seeing Habs playoff wins. But, despite our perceived curse, we can’t help but go back for more. Because, there is nothing better than playoff hockey in Montreal.

Just walking through the streets of downtown Montreal, you can feel the electric vibe.  A sea of Bleu, Blanc et Rouge all heading towards our temple – The Bell Centre.

But, our journey gets interrupted momentarily as security outside the Ritz-Carlton hotel blocks our path so some VIPs can make their way out.  Those VIPs are none other than the big, bad Bruins!

Patrice Bergeron signs a few autographs and takes a few pics with fans, while captain Zdeno Chara heads straight onto the team bus.  Even in a high-priced suit, the gigantic Chara makes for an imposing figure.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara walking out of Ritz Carlton as they head to Bell Centre for Game 3

Kevin Buffitt

But, we’re not here to see the Bruins, we’re here to see our beloved Habs. On with the journey.

The scene outside the Bell Centre is raucous. Thousands of anxious fans getting ready for the best experience in all of hockey.

Some of my Canadiens-crazed friends outside the Bell Centre before the big game.

Kevin Buffitt

As we all flood into the Bell Centre, we pick up the obligatory playoff towel. With only a few minutes to puck drop, we each grab an insanely overpriced beer and navigate the sea of fans, pulling some great dekes and spin moves to get through the crowd and into our seats two rows from the ceiling.

A young hockey player carries out the torch and moments later the Bell Centre is set aflame. It’s time for my favourite moment, the one that gives me goosebumps every time: P.A. announcer Michel Lacroix delivers his signature line. “Mesdames et messieurs, accueillons NOS CANADIENS!”

Over 21,000 fans explode, thousands of towels wave high overhead and deafening screams fill the Bell Centre as the Habs hit the ice. As the starting lineup is introduced, the loudest cheers are saved for P.K. Subban and Carey Price.

The Habs’ new lucky charm, Quebec superstar Ginette Reno, delivers another emotional performance of O Canada. It’s game time!  The puck drops, and all our hopes for a great night rest on the Habs.

They don’t disappoint us this night. Tomas Plekanec takes a beautiful slap pass from Thomas Vanek and roofs it; 1-0 Canadiens.  The Bell Centre goes crazy. I start high-fiving anything near me.

But it doesn’t stop there. Subban gets called for roughing and while the nerves get tested watching the Habs kill off the penalty, little do we know something glorious is about to happen.

As the penalty comes to an end, Lars Eller breaks out. Coming out of the box is Subban to take the pass on a breakaway and beat Tuukka Rask. Now 2-0 Habs!

The Bell Centre erupts. Even before the puck hits the back of the net I have hoisted my friend in the air in celebration.  I can’t remember the Bell Centre being louder than it is at this moment.

The period is over and the daunting task of trying to get to the bathroom and back to our seats in 15 short minutes begins.  I think the line to the bathroom may be longer than the line to get in to the Bell Centre before the game.

We make it back just in time for the second period. Price and his teammates continue to hold the Bruins at bay. Defenceman Mike “the human shield” Weaver blocks another shot, Daniel Briere grabs the puck and makes a long outlet pass to a streaking Dale Weise who flies in on a breakaway and beats Rask five-hole. And it’s 3-0 Habs.

Weise pounds his chest mocking the Bruins goal celebration. Take that Lucic! Again, my friend finds himself off the ground as we collectively go nuts.

We head to the third period with the Habs in the driver’s seat, leading 3-1. But we’ve been here before.

We’re all on the edge of our seats throughout the third period.  With a little more than five minutes to go, the chants of “Ole, Ole, Ole” start.  We look at each other and agree: Too soon.  Way too soon.

Sure enough, the Bruins make it 3-2 with about two minutes to play. A collective shudder is sent through the crowd.  Is this deja vu?  Are we in for heartbreak again?

Not tonight. As the face-off comes to centre ice, the crowd picks it up, chanting “Go Habs Go!”

There is no comeback for the Bruins tonight.  With the goalie pulled, the Habs hold off the onslaught and Eller seals it with an empty netter.

Let the celebration begin.  We start to filter out of the Bell Centre, our ears ringing, voices hoarse, but everyone is in a state of bliss.

The party continues outside and in the streets.  The high fives and fist bumps are all around. Even Montreal cops are willing to share in the joy.

There are no riots or shenanigans on this night. Just pure joy.  As we head out, our conversations have shifted from discussing the game to how we can get back here again for the next round.

Here’s hoping our beloved Canadiens can make that happen.  Because there’s nothing like playoff hockey in Montreal.  GO HABS GO!

© Shaw Media, 2014

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