Montreal Canadiens fans pour into the streets

MONTREAL — It began as an eardrum-rattling eruption of joy that crested into a sea of red, white and blue that engulfed the downtown core of a hockey-mad city Wednesday.

MONTREAL — It began as an eardrum-rattling eruption of joy that crested into a sea of red, white and blue that engulfed the downtown core of a hockey-mad city Wednesday.

Thousands of ecstatic Montreal Canadiens fans streamed into the streets to celebrate the team’s stunning elimination of the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Fireworks erupted over Ste-Catherine Street as people crowd-surfed and held aloft trinkets including Stanley Cups and, in one case, a stuffed penguin.

Ronnie Cukier went downtown with his daughter and her friends because he wanted them to experience a true Montreal hockey celebration — a rarity since the Habs delivered their last championship in 1993.

“We’ve been waiting for this Cup for a long time,” Cukier said.

“I’ve seen a few already. But let the kids see a few of them. Now’s our time. This is our year to win the Cup.”

After upsetting two of the best teams in the league, the unheralded Habs have suddenly enjoyed their longest playoff run since that Cup win 17 years ago.

Another man, Rodolphe Louis, was greeted like a celebrity at the corner of Ste-Catherine and Stanley streets.

Louis has starred in a Creole-language commercial in which two fans cheer on the Habs in their native tongue.

A string of people who recognized him filed past for a handshake and suggested his Haitian-themed commercial was a good-luck talisman.

“People were not expecting this,” Louis said.

“People know we don’t have the best team. . . It’s fate.”

The atmosphere immediately after the game was generally festive — only six arrests were reported — and lacked the ugliness that has marked other hockey celebrations in the Canadiens-mad city.

The heavy police presence and the decision to limit vehicle access may have reduced the potential for ugliness.

Some bottles were tossed at Ste-Catherine Street’s row of storefronts as shielded police stood guard in front of the glass windows.

A few nervous shopkeepers watched from inside their stores.

Officers on foot and horseback would charge in when hooligans got too close to the businesses.

Thousands of peaceful partiers, meanwhile, avoided such scenes and a horde of them would scurry in the other direction each time trouble arose.

“I can hear the cheers from my place,” said one resident of Old Montreal, several kilometres away.

The city’s beloved Habs were actually 750 kilometres away, disposing of the mighty Penguins in Pittsburgh with relative ease in Game 7 after trailing 3-2 in the series.

The impromptu block party kept growing, fed by the 21,000-odd fans who noisily spilled out from the Bell Centre aftter watching the 5-2 victory on a giant screen.

People tossed Habs jerseys onto the ice surface in Montreal as the final buzzer sounded. They spilled out into the streets chanting, “Na na na, hey hey, goodbye,” and “We want the Cup!”

Riot police smiled warily as they watched the scene.

The standing-room-only crowd at the Bell Centre had snapped up tickets to see the game on the giant screen the instant they went on sale.

Fans cheered at each image of the puck being cleared from the Habs’ zone. They roared every time it entered Penguins territory.

And the sight of Mike Cammalleri pumping his fist after a second-period goal literally prompted them to bow in the direction of his flickering, digitized likeness.

Their loudest boos? Those were triggered by the scene of superstar Sidney Crosby complaining to the referees, pleading for a penalty after he was wrestled to the ice.

Up next for the Canadiens in their first conference final in 17 years will be either the Boston Bruins or the Philadelphia Flyers, who will play their Game 7 on Friday night.

An area was set up by the city for a tailgate party around the Bell Centre, with a DJ and refreshment stands.

And the team had one message for Montrealers at a joint news conference earlier with the local police: please behave.

“I know our fans will have fun but in respect and dignity,” said Habs legend Rejean Houle, who also acted as team spokesman at the news conference.

While police and Houle appealed to Montrealers’ civility, they were also backing it up with some muscle.

“Our objective is clear: to ensure the smooth handling of the spontaneous festivity after the game,” said assistant police chief Denis Desroches.

Desroches expressed hope for a Habs win, and he said police didn’t expect more trouble than usual because many families would be attending the game screening.

Police also noted there are about 2,000 security cameras in the downtown area and many people with cellphone cameras, something that helped them identify and round up vandals after the last hockey-related riot in 2008.

Police announced plans to close off a hunk of Ste-Catherine Street and the deployment of officers on foot, bicycle, motorcycle and horseback.

A helicopter hovered overhead and police in riot gear mingled with the crowds.

The canine squad was also being deployed.

Montreal has a history of hockey-related violence.

Cars were burned and downtown stores were trashed and looted after the Canadiens beat the Bruins in 2008 to advance to the next round of that season’s playoffs.

There were also riots after Stanley Cup wins in 1986 and 1993.

One of the most famous riots was in 1955 when Habs great Maurice Richard was suspended and fans took to the street to cause such havoc that Richard had to make a public appeal for calm.

Police said hockey and football games have the potential to lead to riots, judging by past experience in Montreal and other cities.

They said three types of people are usually swept up in the rowdiness — fans who want to celebrate, people who are drawn to the area of the celebration and get drunk, and thieves who want to profit from any vandalism.

Police said hockey fans don’t deserve the blame for any of the looting or vandalism after major Habs wins in recent years.

They say none of the people they arrested in 2008 had tickets to the game on them.