The Montreal Canadiens don't need any extra fans in Canada. Their fan base is plentiful. It stretches to all four corners of the country and is inescapable in between.
Whether they play at the Bell Centre or in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto or Ottawa, those bleu, blanc et rouge sweaters with the CH crest are omnipresent in the stands.
But now that the only Canadian NHL club to make the playoffs this spring has advanced to the East final, will the rest of the country get behind the Habs, like it did with inspired trips to the Stanley Cup final in the past decade by the Flames (2004), Oilers (2006), Senators (2007) and Canucks (2011)?
Or do the Habs need to pile up a few more wins against the New York Rangers in the East final? If our unscientific study on Thursday was any indication, the Canadiens need to win a few more games.
Sure, they'll be mad for the Habs in Quebec and in places like Kelowna, B.C. (hometown of forward Josh Gorges), Anahim Lake, B.C. (Carey Price), Vancouver and Edmonton (Brendan Gallagher), Lac La Biche, Alta. (Rene Bourque), Stewart Valley, Sask. (Travis Moen), Winnipeg (Dale Weise), Brandon, Man. (Ryan White), London, Ont. (Brandon Prust), Bramalea, Ont. (Mike Weaver), Toronto (P.K. Subban) and Strathroy, Ont./Saint John, N.B. (Nathan Beaulieu).
But what about, say, a fan like my cousin Chris out on Vancouver Island, a diehard Canucks fan?
"Definitely I'm cheering for them, but I'm a bit of a different case because don't forget I lived in Montreal for a couple of years," Chris said. "The Canadiens are my second team. I'm following their run.
"I like the speed of this team. I love the way P.K. Subban plays. Carey Price has been awesome after some struggles the past couple of years. In the Boston series, I like the way Montreal handled the intimidation factor of the Bruins."
Bar business booming
At the other end of the spectrum is my buddy Kevin from Bay Street in Toronto. He's a Bruins and Maple Leafs fan. Maybe I should have given him time to calm down from Boston's Game 7 defeat on Wednesday. His disdain for the play of captain Zdeno Chara and David Krejci was still evident.
"My take is this: Some Canadians use the excuse that because Montreal is the only Canadian team, they will cheer for them, but I think a big part of it also could be they just beat the best team in hockey and they really should go all the way," Kev said.
"As so-called 'proud' Canadians, they feel they must cheer for the only Canadian team. After all, it's Canada's game and we can't be outdone by the Americans. If they were to take a look at the content on all teams left, the majority of the players are Canadian or European. I am personally disgusted by all the bandwagon jumping that has gone on since last night's victory, even though I am the first to say Montreal deserved not only the win, but the series as well."
So does that mean my grouchy friend will be cheering for the Canadiens on Saturday when the East final against the New York Rangers begins?
"I am of the opinion that every Canadian should be cheering for one of our home-grown athletes who just lost his mother and his team has responded by moving on to the Eastern final, wanting to not only play but win for Martin [St. Louis] and his [late] mother," Kevin said. "That's powerful stuff and it demonstrates further to me why hockey is the best game ever invented. The brotherhood has all the strengths of the armed forces, police and fire fighters."
The last word goes to another Bruins fan, who just happens to live in Montreal. Jorge manages a bar on Boulevard St-Laurent and takes great delight in dishing it out when his Bruins best the Canadiens.
Good old Jorge has been busted up and down both sides after what happened at the TD Garden on Wednesday.
"These idiots are still celebrating here," Jorge told me over the phone on Thursday afternoon. "They're honking horns. Habs flags are everywhere. But they deserved the win.
"Oh well, at least business will be good for at least another seven days. But I guess I'm a Rangers fan now."
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