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 victory over the Bruins on giant screens also hit the streets.
As the game played in Boston came to an end, even Montreal police officers stationed on Ste-Catherine Street pumped their fists in celebration.
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 the stores on Ste-Catherine.
The victory sent Montreal – the only Canadian team to make the NHL playoffs this year – into the Eastern Conference final against the New York 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.
Mayhem ensued in downtown Montreal, 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.
A team spokeswoman confirmed that alcohol would be sold at the Bell Centre on Wednesday night
Beauchamp said authorities have done a good job “as far as prevention with what happens post-Canadiens games.”
“What happened in the past was not necessarily people who were at the venue,” he said.
“It was people who were not necessarily in the building.”