MONTREAL – Montrealers danced in the streets as their beloved Canadiens defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins to stay alive Monday and force a decisive seventh game of their NHL series.
Buoyant fans clogged part of the street that has hosted so many of the city’s Stanley Cup parades in honour of a team that has defied expectations by surviving this long.
The crowd was peaceful enough that even a Penguins fan wandered through unscathed, enduring nothing more than a little good-natured ribbing, as riot police watched in the distance.
Authorities closed a one-kilometre stretch of Ste-Catherine Street, detouring bus and vehicle traffic during Monday night’s game.
The city has a history of hockey-related unrest, notably looting and vandalism, after key games. The most recent outbursts have followed moments of triumph.
In this particular case, the Habs faced elimination but defeated the Penguins 4-3. The decisive seventh game will be played Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
Riot police guarded the sidewalks and a helicopter buzzed overhead to keep watch on the crowd.
But the celebration was a joyful one without a hint of unrest.
Chief Inspector Sylvain Lemay said police decided to close part of the street as a security measure. The city’s main downtown drag was open to pedestrians only.
“We know hockey games often draw people downtown,” Lemay said in an interview. “It’s really, really for the safety of pedestrians.”
The Canadiens have enjoyed a thrilling post-season run that saw them eliminate top-seeded Washington, and have now pushed the Cup champion Penguins to a final game.
Lemay didn’t say how many officers were on duty, but he said there would be police “in sufficient numbers” on bicycles and on horseback.
He also said his officers would take a “festive” approach, and encourage people to celebrate peacefully.
The reaction to the Canadiens’ first-round win against Washington was rowdy but mostly peaceful.
There was some scuffling and at least one badly dented car after the Habs eliminated the Capitals on April 28. Riot police, some on horseback, dispersed the booze-fuelled crowd with the help of pepper spray.
Lemay said that based on feedback from fans and neighbourhood businesses, people were satisfied with the way his officers handled the situation.
“I’m the first to be satisfied because the reaction of the police was positive (and) the reaction of the fans was also positive and there were very few arrests,” he said.