T.O. fans can't be beat

JOE WARMINGTON

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

Ironically, the resurrection of the Maple Leafs season falls on Easter Sunday and is in the hands of the Devil -- a bunch of Devils actually.

Last night Leafs fans were praying to God for a dramatic come-from-behind win. It worked, and now some are prepared to sell their soul to the New Jersey Devils for one more shot at chasing the Stanley Cup.

"I think it's a good omen," jokes Carlos DeSousa, longtime ACC security man and Maple Leafs fan. "I think it's going to happen."

If the Devils can beat the Islanders today, the Toronto Maple Leafs are QEW bound for a playoff tilt with their rivals down in Buffalo.

All Leaf fans can do is wait. And hope for more miracles. It is Easter after all.

But they can also savour last night's unbelievable win against the Montreal Canadiens.

That was the kind of hockey game they may talk about for years. An absolute classic. Perhaps the most exciting regular season game ever! A gem, and as coach Paul Maurice says, "It was all that is good about our game in Canada."

That's what national unity looks like. And national rivalry. The players came to play and the record crowd at the ACC came to cheer. The atmosphere was electric as 19,723 was the most fans ever for a Maple Leafs game. "They were wired," said Maurice. "You could sense they wanted to help us."

And they did exactly that.

They were there with every hit, every shift, every shot -- grinding out just as much as the players. It was as loud and boisterous as I have ever heard there. "There was times in that game I had to cover my eyes," said fan Lauren Finkler. "It was so exciting."

Outside, in true Maple Leaf fan playoff tradition, scores of the Nation headed to their cars, honked their horns and celebrated as if it was a prize much bigger won.

But beating Montreal out is a victory no matter what way you look at it.

"It was just incredible," said Mark Sarginson, who with brother Adam and pal Tanya Vanderpas were among the thousands who hit the street screaming.

"What an Easter present," said Jack Sustronk.

"We will be watching today for sure," added Brady Burke.

It wasn't lost on anyone down at the Hangar just how big a game this was. TV executives are anxious to see the numbers. "With so many people watching, I hope I didn't mess it up," teased legendary Hockey Night In Canada play-by-play man Bob Cole.

Prior to the game Don Cherry predicted the Leafs would prevail. "I am for Toronto all the way," he told fans as he led them in cheers.

Although some fans were joking they are going golfing today with Habs fans, most were gracious. The brother act of Jim and Tommy Mackovski along with Chantal Daigle did their best to cheer on their team with their red and white Montreal colours.

Not this year, folks. This time it's the Leafs Nation that gets to celebrate.

This was a perfect first game for Lief Sather, 5, who was part of that old-time hockey feel being with his grandfather Eugene Sather, 69 and dad Kevin Sather, 42. "It was a retirement gift for my dad," said Kevin, who is from Kelowna but lives in Seattle. "We have been planning it all year."

They couldn't have planned it better. What a game. "It's such an honour," said Eugene, who himself was asked to try out for the New York Rangers 50 years ago but ended up being a provincial court judge in B.C. "It's very nice to be here with my son and grandson."

Sons, grandsons, daughters, moms, dads and even some pets were tuned to Hockey Night In Canada last night. For two teams that have played so many big games, this one was not for the Cup but potentially for a birth to fight for it.

In a town waiting for that parade for four decades, it's as close to that big hockey game we have had in a long time. It was a great night to be down at the Hangar. Canadian unity doesn't get better than that.

Now get on your knees Leaf fans and pray the Easter Bunny and the New Jersey Devils have one more present for you today.


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