'Stars are aligned' as Montreal heads to Stanley Cup final

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A Carey Price fan, upon another Carey Price fan, were among those outside the Bell Centre Thursday, where the Habs beat the Vegas Golden Knights. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)
A Carey Price fan, upon another Carey Price fan, were among those outside the Bell Centre Thursday, where the Habs beat the Vegas Golden Knights. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)

For the first time in nearly three decades, the Montreal Canadiens are headed to the Stanley Cup final — just as the city emerges from the darkness of the pandemic.

Thursday's series-clinching victory over the Vegas Golden Knights comes as Quebec further eases public health restrictions, with the vaccination rate rising and COVID-19 cases on the decline.

"The stars are aligned," said Stuart Ashton, general manager and one of the partners of McLean's Pub, a popular gathering place for Habs fans a short walk from the Bell Centre.

"It's been a long year and a half ... It's a perfect situation to get back together."

Thousands celebrated last night downtown and in neighbourhoods across the city after the team's overtime victory propelled the Habs to the finals.

"The city deserves it. The fan base deserves it. The players are playing unbelievable," said Ganni Mann, who flew from Winnipeg with his wife to attend last night's game at the Bell Centre.

The couple waited for an hour this morning to buy jerseys for their two sons at the arena shop.

Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC
Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC

Hope for downtown

Glenn Castanheira, general manager of Montreal's downtown business association, said the improbable playoff run has helped revive the city's core, which like many across the country has been quiet with so many people avoiding crowds and working and studying from home.

"This morning I'm seeing nothing but smiles," he said.

A total of 15 people were arrested following Thursday night's game, and police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. No downtown storefronts were damaged, however.

Castanheira says he was pleased with the result, given the circumstances — a series-clinching victory on Quebec's Fête nationale holiday, under a full moon.

For some businesses, however, Habs fever won't be enough to make up for the loss in tourists.

Daniel Gabrian, owner of Souvenirs Bonjour Québec downtown, has been selling Montreal Canadiens-themed accessories, including mugs, coasters and caps since 2018.

"Only a few locals come to our shop and some international students who are going back to their country," he said.

He and his partner now run the shop after letting go of their last two employees because of the drop in revenue.

"For sure we will sell more of the hockey stuff. On the other hand, we are also scared about vandalism."

WATCH | A night of celebration in Montreal

Plans for the final

The Bell Centre capacity is still 3,500 per game. In a statement Friday, Quebec's Health Ministry said that rule remains in effect.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said Friday she would like to see COVID-19 restrictions eased to allow more fans inside.

But she also said the city is in discussions with public health and the Canadiens organization about how to safely broadcast games outdoors.

The city's public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, urged fans to keep following public health guidelines by watching in small groups, outdoors. "And of course, to get vaccinated," she said.

The Canadiens' opponent in the Stanley Cup finals will be determined Friday night, when the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders face off in Game 7 of the other semifinal.

Ashton said his staff are planning for how to manage the game nights to come.

"Last night as we closed, my staff and I, we sat around a little bit and we discussed what was tough about the night and what we could do better and we're just working on a game plan for the next series."

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