HALLOWEEN CAME either very early or very late to Philadelphia last night.
A tsunami of orange and black swept across the city at exactly 9:35 p.m., as the horn sounded at a raucous Wachovia Center to seal the Flyers' 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, and their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 13 years. They'll play the Chicago Blackhawks.
On a seasonably warm spring night far removed from hockey's frozen-pond origins, the orange crush descended on Frankford and Cottman avenues in the Northeast, outside the sports complex in South Philly, and all party points in between. The star of the show in the Great Northeast was Brian D'Angelo, 24, who fashioned the first Stanley Cup hat in the crowd. "I made it this afternoon," he said. "I used cardboard, some plates, a cup, and a lot of spray paint."
But it was a bittersweet night for D'Angelo, who said his father Steve died Thursday of ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. "I think he's looking out for them. I think we're going to go all the way."
Just minutes earlier, the outdoor scene at Frankford and Cottman consisted of maybe two dozen fans watching a big-screen TV in the front window of Reales Sports Bar and Grill, who counted down the final seconds as if it were New Year's Eve.
As if on cue, a small orange trickle turned instantly into a gusher that filled the intersection with hundreds of fans like Brian James, 35, who watched in amazement as fans set off small fireworks and sprayed beer.
"You can always see when it's going to get crazy," James said. "They're going to be out here all night."
It was just seven months ago that a joyous red tide surged into these same intersections, celebrating the Phillies' second straight National League pennant. Sports' celebrations have become more common in this city once thought to be cursed, but it's a tradition that - not unlike 35-year-old Flyers defender Chris Pronger - simply never seems to grow old.
The safest place in Philadelphia last night had to be the stately Union League on Broad Street, where 14 police horses wearing riot headgear and about 100 police officers were massed. Shortly before 11 p.m., the mounted units moved north toward City Hall to disperse the crowd, even though about 300 chanting fans there were not causing trouble.
In fact, two die-hard Flyer fans - Dominic Savini 34, of South Philly, and Dale Ensign, 36, of Kensington - appointed themselves protectors of three fans in Montreal Canadiens' jerseys - Ryan Stotland and Jaryd Zummer, both 23 of Montreal, and Jennifer Liao, 25, of Toronto.
Stotland claimed the crowds weren't as big or as rowdy as those in Montreal when the Canadiens won in the second round of the playoffs, although he added, warily:
"Tonight we might end up in two sections of the Daily News, the sports page . . . and the obituaries."
At Frankford and Cottman, dozens of officers dressed in riot gear lined the intersection and surrounding streets, while others watched from rooftops and the sound of helicopters thrummed steadily overhead.
Police spokesman Lt. Frank Vanore said there were no arrests, even though thousands of fans gathered near Snyder Avenue in South Philadelphia.
"This is great - they're the Comeback Kids!" enthused Barbara Martino, 44, who brought her 74-year-old mother, Doris Walsh, out to join the throng at Frankford and Cottman.