MONTREAL - Somewhere among all the cheering, there were probably a few sighs of relief.
Montreal Canadiens fans spilled out of the Bell Centre downtown Tuesday evening in high—yet cautious—spirits after the Habs downed the New York Rangers in an action-packed 7-4 win.
The victory staves off elimination one more time for the Canadiens, who head to New York for Game 6 of the NHL Eastern Conference final on Thursday.
The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 but Habs fans weren't dwelling on that Wednesday night.
"Go Habs, Go," chanted an exuberant Fil Mardakis as she headed to a nearby subway station with a friend. "All the way."
She raised her eyebrows beneath her cowboy hat—which had a Canadiens logo on the front—when asked what she thought were the sweetest moments of the contest.
"Oh my God, certainly not the penalties we got, but the final three goals were awesome."
Her friend Niki Pollis was hard-pressed to contain her joy at the win.
"I was so happy that they won," she gushed. "I can't believe it. It was awesome, we played awesome."
And she tipped her own hat to goalie Dustin Tokarski who has had to pinch hit since Carey Price was sidelined with a knee injury.
"He's No. 1," Pollis said. "No. 1. Tell him. He saved us."
Her view was shared by Stephane Rivest. He also pointed to right winger Rene Bourque, who scored three goals which prompted fans to send hats fluttering onto the ice to celebrate the achievement.
"Mr. Bourque was great," Rivest said. "Mr. Tokarski was great as well for a kid coming in but who knows. It's a great series and we'll see who wins."
Fans didn't linger too long outside the Bell Centre or on nearby Ste-Catherine Street to celebrate the win.
Some groups hooted and chanted in small groups and in front of TV cameras outside the arena.
A busker playing a clarinet version of the signature "Ole Ole Ole" song that has become a staple of games got cheers as throngs—many in Habs jerseys or with their faces painted in the team's red, white and blue colours—headed past to the subway.
On Ste-Catherine Street, fans were mainly well-behaved amid the heavy presence of Montreal police, who seemed ready to do a little stickhandling of their own if crowds got too rowdy.
Lines of helmeted police stood on street corners and across storefronts, watching as the upbeat mobs trundled past on the commercial artery which has been hit by post-game riots in past years.
A quick glance on side streets also revealed busloads of additional officers ready to move in if needed.
One fan who high-fived anyone who passed him as he walked down the street found himself waving into empty air as he came to the police line at one point.
He stared surprised with his hand aloft in front of a baton-gripping female officer, who smiled politely and suggested her hands were otherwise occupied and unable to return the greeting.
Other officers further down the street smiled and gave a quick palm slap when someone offered one.
In the end, there would be no trouble. Some fans lined up outside a popular strip joint not far from the hockey temple while others simply looked for some food or headed home to bask in the win.
"It was a great comeback because it was close until the final minute," said Serge Lapierre as he walked to a subway. "The Rangers have done a lot but I think we're ready."
Ready enough to win the Canadiens' first Stanley Cup since 1993?
"I always think so."