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Playoff exit dashes high hopes of Habs fans, but many say future looks bright

MONTREAL - The Montreal Canadiens may have been booted from the second round of the playoffs by the Philadelphia Flyers, but the Habs' surprising season lasted long enough to leave a mark on the city.

An unexpected conference title in the regular season and an exciting playoff drive reignited Montreal's passion for the game as Habs fever spread across the island and beyond.

Canadiens flags popped up on vehicles everywhere, the French-language sports network RDS shattered its own audience records and water coolers couldn't catch a break from incessant hockey chatter.

Even a Montreal statue was fitted for a massive Carey Price sweater and a recent cross-country poll suggests the Habs have seized the title of "Canada's team" from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Following the decisive Game 5, many Habs fans admitted they thought this was going to be their year.

"At first they got my hopes up, in the end they lost, but you know what, they played such an amazing season," said Nick Mouracade, who painted his face in the team's colours and donned a Canadiens cape for the final game Saturday night.

Earlier in the playoffs, heightened emotions erupted into violence after the Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the first round.

Hooligans looted boutiques and torched police cruisers in the downtown core. The riot led to 45 arrests.

But following Saturday's 6-4 loss to the Flyers, the scene was subdued in the streets around the Bell Centre - an area under the careful watch of hundreds of police officers in riot gear.

Only a handful of heartbroken diehards chanted "Go Habs go!" while echoes of the festive fan anthem "Ole, ole, ole" were nowhere to be heard.

Despite the defeat, fans spoke highly of the team's young core and remained optimistic about next year, the club's centennial season.

"Last year they didn't even make the playoffs, this year they made the second round... I think next year they're going to go even further," Mouracade said.

Giuseppe Piccione said Game 5 should have been in the bag once the Canadiens took a 3-1 lead. Still, he liked what he saw this season.

"The young players will have more experience (next year), and we will return with force - I'm sure of it," said Piccione, who spoke after the game between gulps of beer until a police officer grabbed his cup and poured the contents into a gutter.

"Next year it will be the 100th (anniversary) and that will encourage the young players."

Meanwhile, Matt Richman, who sported a fuzzy Habs hat with ear flaps to the game, said the Canadiens were better than the Flyers through most of the series, but just couldn't get the breaks they needed.

Richman said the team will have to juggle a few roster spots in the off-season, however, he is convinced the future looks bright.

"I hope for the best and I'm a Habs fan until the end," he said.


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