A little rain wasn’t going to keep Justine L’Heureux from Maple Square Friday night.
A self-described “unconditional be-leafer”, Ms. L’Heureux, was outside the Air Canada Centre watching her beloved Leafs on the 30-by 50-foot screen in Maple Leaf Square for each of their playoff games this year except one, Game 4, but that was only because she was watching from inside the arena.
“The party outside is way better,” the 42-year-old Oshawa native said Friday night, her Leafs jersey soaked with rain. “Not even the rain can stop us.”
Thousands of Leafs supporters stood through rain showers that lasted most of the night and watched just outside the Air Canada Centre at 15 York Street, as their team stayed alive in the NHL playoffs, beating the Boston Bruins 2-1. But for a lifelong, battle-hardened Leafs fan like Ms. L’Heureux, standing in the rain was nothing.
“I’ve stuck with them through thick and thin,” she said. “[Being a Leafs fan] can be disappointing sometimes, but this is just amazing, I’m so happy for what we’ve done this year.”
Organizers said there was over 2,700 people inside Maple Leaf Square, which was at capacity. Add in the people who gathered on Bremner Boulevard, just outside the fence of the tailgate area and Jamie Deans, a Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment public relations officer, estimated there was between 3,000 and 4,000 people in the crowd.
“We had 2,000 before the game even started and they were getting soaked,” Mr. Deans said. “Those are some dedicated fans. I think that’s amazing, that many people out there in the pouring rain.”
Nineteen-year-old Zach Brazzere and 18-year-old Jordan Passalacqua showed their dedication, showing up at 12:30 p.m. so they could be the first ones through the gate.
“We were freezing for most of the day,” said Ms. Passalacqua. “But we really wanted to be first.”
Fans were let in to the tailgate party just after 5 p.m., and the skies opened shortly after. Some in attendance took shelter inside the Air Canada Centre lobby, which was open so fans could use the washroom, or under the awning on the outside of the arena. Others, however, stood pat, $9 beers in hand, chanting “go Leafs go.”
“These people out here are the most amazing people,” said Ms. L’Heureux of her fellow fans gathered in the rain. “I’m really proud of Toronto for the turnout and the support.”
The rain actually subsided early in the game. But even when it picked back up, which happened frequently throughout the night, there were few seeking shelter.
After the Leafs dominated the scoreless first period, outshooting the Bruins 19-8, the fans were confident.
“If it wasn’t for [Bruins goalie Tuuka] Rask, I think we’d have a couple goals by now,” said Ian Burr as Don Cherry came on the massive screen behind him. “I think we’re going to win.”
And when they took a 1-0 lead into the third period, that confidence became cautious optimism.
“No lead is safe, we saw that on Wednesday when we had a 2-0 lead and that didn’t go our way,” said Birinder Singh who has tickets to Game 6 Sunday night. “We just want a win. Whether it’s 1-0, 2-0, it doesn’t matter.”
The crowd had their nerves tested in the third period when Boston’s Zdeno Chara scored to make it 2-1. But when the game ended and the blue and white confetti flew, the Leafs win made standing through the rain, which was bordering on torrential at times, worthwhile.
“It was so worth it, I’ve been waiting nine years for this,” said fan Tyler Winfield, before confidently predicting “Leafs in seven.”
According to Mr. Deans, everyone at the event “dispersed peacefully” following the game.
Game 6 between the Leafs and Bruins is set for Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Air Canada Centre. The tailgate party in Maple Leaf Square will open at 5 p.m.