WATCH ABOVE: There was joy in the streets of Montreal on Wednesday night after the Habs defeated the Bruins in game 7.
MONTREAL – Thousands of hockey fans jammed into downtown Montreal on Wednesday night after the Canadiens clinched their playoff series against the arch-enemy Boston Bruins to move closer to their first Stanley Cup in more than 20 years.
Droves emerged from downtown bars, while many of the 21,000 people who packed the Bell Centre to watch the Habs’ 3-1 Game 7 victory over the Bruins on giant screens also hit the streets.
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 was “underwhelmed” by the street celebration, saying it was better four years ago.
“I expected more (people) to be honest. The cops are containing it pretty well.”
Mann expects the crowds to get bigger and bigger the deeper the Habs go into the playoffs, beginning with Montreal’s next series against the New York Rangers.
“If we reach the (Stanley) Cup finals – New York’s a very good team – it’s going to be huge. It’s going to be very huge.”
Another fan, Pierre-Marc Lambert, described the victory against Boston as “the best game ever!”
He predicted the Canadiens will now defeat the Rangers to reach the Stanley Cup final.
Fahad Syed, 21, who has been a Habs fan since he was seven, described the win as an “amazing experience – especially beating the best team in the NHL.”
As the game played in Boston 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 in what initially looked like peaceful celebrations. Police reported fewer than 10 arrests, mostly for mischief, less than an hour after the game had ended.
Many fans stood on other people’s shoulders and chanted the names of their hockey heroes as police guarded stores on Ste-Catherine.
But thousands of fans remained downtown 90 minutes after the end of the game and it was still unclear how the night would end.
The victory sent Montreal – the only Canadian team to make the NHL playoffs this year – into the Eastern Conference final against the Rangers in a series that begins Saturday afternoon.
The Canadiens are looking for their first Stanley Cup since 1993.
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 21,000-odd tickets sold out in two hours.
Police were hoping the event wouldn’t turn into a repeat of 2010 after fans at the Bell Centre watched the Canadiens eliminate the Penguins in a game played in Pittsburgh.
© 2014 The Canadian Press