SUN Hockey Pool

No Habby ending

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

It was 40 minutes before game time and there were already hundreds of Montreal Canadiens fans in the stands, a few of them already chanting "Go Habs Go."

By the time the Canadiens stepped on the ice for the pre-game warm-up, there had to be about 4,000 of them wearing Montreal sweaters, almost all of them giving a team which had lost eight of their last 10 games a standing ovation.

By game time there wasn't a row in any section in the building where at least one fan wasn't wearing a Canadiens jersey. All the fans in some rows were dressed in rouge, bleu et blanc.

"It was like we were playing at the Bell Centre. There were more Canadiens jerseys than Oilers jerseys. That helped motivate us to beat them," said Montreal area native Marc Pouliot of the Oilers.

Well, there were some sights you wouldn't witness in the Bell Centre, like the one fan who wore his Canadiens sweater and held his one-year-old son who was wearing an Oilers jersey.

"It was pretty crazy. That was my first game against the Canadiens. I thought when the Maple Leafs came here it was pretty crazy. But that was up a notch," said Pouliot.

If nothing else, the scene symbolized the official end of the NHL stupidity of house league, home-in-your-bed-every-night, no travel hockey in the East.

Fans in the city where the Hockey Hall of Fame's last officially recognized dynasty plays, finally watched the NHL's all-time dynasty again.

It was the first time the Habs have been here since Dec. 15, 2005!

I mean, how insane was this?

Montreal had only played here once since the Canadiens played the Oilers before a crowd of 57,167 fans at Commonwealth Stadium in the NHL's first-ever outdoor game, giving birth to hockey history together in what has become the biggest single hockey TV event in the U.S.A.

Despite the fact both these were teams on the skids going into this game, there was a buzz in the building like there hasn't been this season.

It would make an interesting sociology study to discover why Edmonton fans hate having half as many people in the crowd wearing Toronto Maple Leaf sweaters, but embrace all those Montreal fans, many from the rural French-Canadien strongholds of Beaumont, St. Paul, Smoky Lake, Bonnyville, etc.

For the record, Chantille French of Bonnyville won $30,000 in last night's 50-50 draw.

Whatever, Rexall Place rivaled Disneyland as the happiest place on earth with all those Canadiens fans who finally had a chance to watch their team again, even if Less Glorieux (as opposed to Les Glorieux) made it nine losses in their last 11 games.

One Montreal fan put a paper bag on his head when it was 4-0, a bag he brought obviously figuring there was a chance he might be wearing it, although one doubts if the fellow might have figured it would be 7-2.

It was the 3,000 away game in the storied 100-year history of the Habs and it looked like the first 2,999 were on this same road trip the way the wheels have fallen off the team many figured might celebrate their centennial with their 25th Stanley Cup.

The Oilers, who had lost home games 10-2 and 9-2 earlier this season, led 4-1 after the first period and 6-1 after two to keep the place jumping.

It was a night the entertainment-starved Edmonton fans needed this unsatisfying season. And it was a night the Oilers, who hadn't managed to beat any of the other teams in the division - losing home games to Boston, Buffalo, Toronto and Ottawa here earlier this year - needed ever more.

"Obviously there's a pretty positive feeling in here. You don't want to be hanging your heads when you're playing golf," said Sam Gagner of the team which an hour later would be on the plane to Palm Springs to play golf with owner Daryl Katz and some of his friends.

So much for the Canadiens idea of going bowling instead of holding a practice the day before in Edmonton. Maybe they should have tried curling.

Gagner figured all the Montreal fans made it feel like the Oilers were on the road.

"We play better on the road," he laughed.

There was even some gallows humor out of the Montreal room.

"We thought the last game was the bottom of the barrel but the barrel is a little bit deeper than we thought," said Montreal left winger Christopher Higgins.

Goaltending continues to be a problem for Montreal. Carey Price had a save percentage of .741 in the game.

"I don't know if I can figure it out," said coach Craig MacTavish of winning 7-2 after having been on the wrong end of big scores recently. "We saw a lot of goals go in that we haven't seen go in for a while."

Don't critique the wins, especially when they're blowouts.


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