MONTREAL -- Anyone who arrives in Montreal during the Stanley Cup Playoffs can plainly see what they mean to the city, assuming, of course, that the hometown team is still playing.
It is obvious in the Montreal Canadiens flags that hang from just about every second car you see driving in the streets, honking at other cars displaying their loyalties in the same way.
When you ride the bus to work in the morning, instead of seeing the bus number and route displayed above the window, you see a sign of encouragement for the Canadiens. Just about every restaurant, every store, everyone will be showing, in some way, their support. It is impossible to escape.
There is no day that fervent love for the Canadiens and desire to watch them succeed in the playoffs becomes more apparent than game day.
Grown men and women ditch work early to begin preparations for the game, and there is a palpable buzz around the city. The game is on everyone's lips. It is being debated on every street corner. A collective stress is being shared among all residents, something that brings people together even as the nerves tear them apart.
Coupled with the onset of spring, the snow having melted away after a long, bitter winter, it is the best time of year in Montreal.
The Canadiens have attempted to harvest and nurture this feeling in the city the past few years by holding a type of tailgate party near Bell Centre prior to home games. They call it the Fan Jam.
Situated in an empty lot a block south of the Canadiens' home rink, the Fan Jam includes a big Ferris wheel, a bar named after former Canadiens forward Yvon Lambert, tattoo booths, mechanical bulls and even a barber shop where you can have your allegiance for the game shaved into your head.
It's a fun place to go before the game, but it serves a second purpose in a place like Montreal. It is like group therapy.
After stressing out about how the Canadiens will do that night for the better part of 48 hours, and just at the moment that anxiety would reach its peak, fans come together and see they are not alone in their enthusiasm or their worry. They are part of a group.
That feeling then transfers over to Bell Centre, a block to the north, where 21,288 fans get together to create a playoff environment unlike any other in the NHL.