A quick disclaimer: I hadn't yet personally attended one of these infamous Bell Centre-on-the-Sawgrass contests until Friday night. Complaints by Panthers faithful regarding uncountable Habs fanatics overrunning the BankAtlantic Center in recent seasons have been duly noted by yours truly, but I really didn't Get It until Montreal's first goal.
Forget everything else about what ultimately went down: Florida blowing a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 in OT, neither club truly establishing any sort of dominance whatsoever, an almost "disinterested" approach by everyone but Tomas Vokoun (witness his 45 saves). The sea of red sweaters and t-shirts. Just window dressing.
What drew my attention more than any other aspect of the night was the moment James Wisniewski's first goal hit the back of the net (above). Video replay simply cannot capture the essence of nothing less than a mammoth Wall of Sound erupting from the stands. Beyond thunderous, it was instantaneous: as if each seat occupied by a Canadiens fan was hard-wired to the goal light, providing for a single collective, in-your-face audio smackdown. It's something that has to be experienced first-hand to be believed.
Where Panthers goal celebrations are typically of the rheostat variety - rising in pitch and volume over a period of several seconds as "realization" sets in among the crowd - this was a display of a very different sort: like a light switch, it was immediate. Nasty. Arrogant. Primal. Twenty-four league championships evidently - and justifiably -have that effect. Knowing Jacques Martin created half the team he would eventually beat only adds salt to the bloody stump.
Anyone who spent more than a few seconds at the Hartford Civic Center when the Bruins were visiting in the early nineties is familiar with That Sound. Happen to be in the concession areas when a goal was scored? Pre-annoying fog horn, it was nearly impossible to tell whether the Whalers or their punk Adams Division rivals had netted the money shot.
I say "nearly" because Boston's troops brought That Sound with them down I-91 right onto Asylum Street; a sound which indeed had its own characteristics, eerily similar to those witnessed at the BAC in the past few years when Les Habitants are in town. Wisniewski's goal transported me backward in time directly to the Battle of New England, and I didn't like it. At all.
There are no conclusions to be reached in any of this beyond the emotional aspect of watching helplessly as the hometown heroes are disemboweled before thousands of The Enemy's wildly audible loyalists, which in essence results in accepting the surrender of "our house".
So the rabid cacophony of Go Habs Go will continue to drown the few hearty attempts of Let's Go Panthers for another few years. We're secure enough in our club's future to take the verbal beatings as long as management (the hockey side, anyway) is allowed to implement their vision into a solid foundation for success. The day is coming when those red-shirted invaders will see their numbers dwindle thanks to local demand for seats. The market has proven it true in the past, and will again.
But waiting for that day has never been a more painful exercise in defeatism.
UPDATE: Walkin' the Green Mile, or our variation of it, courtesy of VektoriousProductions via YouTube - couldn't embed it. Many thanks for the link, Cliff.