MONTREAL — It’s a city that suddenly believes in miracles.
And it’s toasting the man who has brought their hockey team to the brink of one — with the unheralded Montreal Canadiens a Game 7 victory away from ousting the much-favoured Washington Capitals.
Montreal’s adulation is directed at Jaroslav Halak. The Slovak netminder was depicted as Jesus Christ in one local newspaper where he was drawn Wednesday in a Habs jersey, goalie mask, and flowing white robes.
The clergy itself was getting into the act.
A Roman Catholic priest from Trois-Rivieres was on TV explaining why he had Habs logos embedded all over his stole, the ceremonial scarf that runs down his robes. He said he would pray for the best team to win… but expressed hope the good Lord might side with his Habs.
Another newspaper Wednesday drew the diminutive goalie, Halak, as an acrobat from the Cirque du soleil.
Those editorial cartoons sum up the sentiments of a hockey-mad city eager for a monumental upset: no eight-place team has ever come back from a 3-1 series deficit to unseat a top-seeded team.
The Habs’ rabid fan base could have other problems. Just getting a seat in a bar in Montreal could be a challenge.
In fact, one pub in the city’s trendy Plateau neighbourhood said it was no longer taking reservations by phone for a table.
People with reservations at Bar Normand will need to show up an hour before gametime and will lose their seats if they’re not there precisely 60 minutes before the puck drops.
A manager at Champs Bar & Restaurant says that, with a capacity crowd of 400 expected tonight, there’s only one seating option left: “If there is, it’ll be on top of people’s laps,” said J.C. Ferraro.
Ferraro said a lot of the fairweather fans have come back with a vengeance — bandwagon-jumpers who were ready to throw in the towel after Game 4 and then saw a glimmer of hope after a Game 5 win.
“After Game 6, we’re on a huge high and everyone thinks we can take it tonight even though we’re underdogs again,” Ferraro said.
“People are coming in an hour-and-a-half before the game tonight and I have major groups of 10 and 20 people.”
Such fanfare for a first-round series would once have been unthinkable in Montreal.
This is a city that celebrated eight Stanley Cup championships in 12 seasons between 1967-68 and 1978-79; but, since their last Cup win in 1993, it’s become a rare occurrence for the Habs to make it past the first round.
Any hope of advancing this year seemed lost until two outstanding performances from Halak, who started the season as a backup.
Le Journal de Montreal paid tribute to Halak today by superimposing his face, jersey and mask on a painting of Jesus surrounded by adoring apostles straining to touch his robes.
Following the Game 6 win, the tabloid ran a front-page headline in Slovak in his honour.
A Habs fan told a local sports radio station that he would be going to a prayer meeting on Wednesday.
“It would be great to see an original six team move on to the next round, it would be good for hockey,” said another caller to the Team 990.
The level of excitement for the game was evident in the top trending topics on Twitter’s Canada website. They included Halak and Varlamov, the Washington Capitals’ starting goalie.
Meanwhile, the Capitals were forced to shut down their official message board on their website after the club’s staff said the conversation had become unruly and vulgar.
Some commenters on a Washington Post blog expressed their suspicions that, maybe, the team wanted to silence angry fans wondering how the series had gone to seven games.