The thing with a hockey franchise that has been around for a century and won 24 Stanley Cups is that no matter what happens, invariably there has been a more memorable championship, a more stunning victory or a more impressive riot.
Like a tropical storm that never quite graduates to hurricane status, the violence on Ste. Catherine Street in Montreal after a Game 7 win on May 12 that sent the Canadiens to a conference final for the first time in 17 years seemingly did not qualify as a full-scale riot by exacting community standards. Most of the media described the event—41 arrests, some looting, a soupçon of tear gas—with the alliterative "mayhem in Montreal," not that the nuance mattered to the province-run liquor store that was ransacked for thousands of dollars worth of booze. To its credit, the city tidies up well. Fourteen hours after a celebration of 50,000 jumped the rails, there was little to gawk at on the downtown thoroughfare: one small pile of vomit, a boarded-up door at a Foot Locker and backup goalie Carey Price, in plaid shirt and jeans, taking an afternoon stroll.
Once, Montreal hockey-related riots were epic. They either had social significance—the 1955 Richard Riot, sparked by the NHL's suspension of star wing Maurice Richard, often is considered the start of the so-called Quiet Revolution in Quebec society—or they served as exclamation points to championships. The last of those was in 1993, when cars were torched and looters battled cops until almost dawn. Alas, now a second-round series clinched in Pittsburgh is riot-worthy. "People," says chief inspector Sylvain Lemay, a 21-year veteran of the Montreal police force, "become happier, faster."
At least the mayhem makers, estimated at 400 to 500 by police, showed creativity. Looters hit a high-end women's clothing boutique, not to swipe size 0s—your looter demographic generally shuns haute couture—but to grab mannequins, dismember them and use limbs to shatter windows at the sneaker emporium and the liquor store. They also showed an acute sense of timing, making merry while they still could. The Canadiens opened the Eastern Conference final Sunday with an ugly 6--0 loss in Philadelphia, which star Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov missed because of a torn ACL he sustained in the Penguins series. The boutique, however, was down three mannequins.
The playoffs are about attrition.
While a city swept up the shards last Thursday after a dizzying month in which the NHL's 19th-best team first eliminated the President's Trophy--winning Capitals and then the defending-champion Penguins in seven games, Canadiens third-liner Dominic Moore relaxed by watching the Madrid Open tennis tournament. He was startled when, during the Rafael Nadal--John Isner match, a camera settled on a man holding a red octagonal sign with HALAK instead of STOP. Says Moore, "We're global."
The Ste. Catherine Street commotion is not the only reason Montreal burrowed into world consciousness last week. A 25-year-old Slovak goalie named Jaroslav Halak became famous as determined by two infallible modern touchstones—the Internet and T-shirts. The e-mail in-box of seemingly every Montrealer, including the goalie, contained a picture of the HALAK stop sign the morning after Washington was ousted. (Note to Caps flameout Alexander Ovechkin: You were right. Halak's hand was shaking when he drank from the water bottle during Game 2. It was because the bottle was nearly empty and he was squeezing the last drops out of it. You challenge Dr. Stop's manhood at your peril.) In a city that has bickered about whether signs should read ARRÊT or STOP, HALAK met universal acclaim. (The nonlicensed tees, of course, followed, $14.99 online.) Last week the Quebec cartoonist Ygreck drew a crouched Halak gazing at the Gulf of Mexico, preparing to halt the BP oil leak.
His ride hasn't been pothole-free. After allowing four goals on 14 shots in Game 1 in Philadelphia, he was pulled midway through the second period—the third time this postseason he's been relieved. But against Washington and Pittsburgh, he rallied to win his next start. "No concern whatsoever," said winger Mike Cammalleri after the Philly wipeout. "Jaro's had games where pucks have gone in on him before, and he's bounced back and played spectacular. We love our goaltender."
"I'm not a superhero, I'm just a normal human being," Halak says. "Just a goalie."
Sure. Halak won five elimination games, three on the road, while stopping 202 of 210 shots against the crazy-good Capitals and Penguins. If Montreal stages a Stanley Cup parade next month, he rides in the Batmobile.