'Stars are aligned' as Montreal heads to Stanley Cup final
Businesses hope to benefit from playoff run just as pandemic restrictions lift
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."
WATCH | Montreal businesses and fans are enjoying the winning streak
Thousands celebrated last night downtown and in neighbourhoods across the city.
"The city deserves it. The fan base deserves it. The players are playing unbelievable," said Ganni Maan, 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.
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 for much of the past year.
"This morning I'm seeing nothing but smiles," he said.
The streets were filled Thursday night with cheering fans who were, at times, overly rowdy. A total of 15 people were arrested following the game, and police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. No downtown storefronts were damaged, however.
Castanheira said he was pleased with the result, given the circumstances — a dramatic win on Quebec's Fête nationale holiday on a warm summer night under a full moon.
For some businesses, however, Habs fever won't be enough to make up for the loss of many months of tourist dollars.
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 is limited to 3,500 per game. In a statement Friday, Quebec's Health Ministry said that rule remains in effect.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she would be open to allowing more fans inside, but she also said the city is in discussions with public health and the Canadiens about how to broadcast the games on giant screens outdoors.
The timing of the cup run and the city opening up could not have been better, she said.
"I really feel this connection. I feel that Montrealers are proud."
The city's public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, also urged fans to keep following public health guidelines by watching in small groups outside. "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."
With files from Alison Northcott, Holly Cabrera, Daybreak and Radio-Canada's Tout un Matin