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For fans, celebration was 21 years in the making

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By Eric Moskowitz and Travis Andersen and L. Finch
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / May 28, 2011

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For 21 years they had waited, watching as the Bruins often made early playoff exits while the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics circled the city again and again in championship Duck Boats.

Last night they were redeemed, those Bruins fans who kept faith in the belief that this is a hockey town, and they spilled out onto the streets around TD Garden afterward in a celebration nearly worthy of the Stanley Cup itself.

The Bruins beat Tampa Bay, 1-0, to win the Eastern Conference finals on a late goal in a Game 7 nail-biter, the waiting more pronounced than ever.

When Nathan Horton put the B’s ahead with 7:33 left, Carolyn Brown of Medford leaped into the air from her perch on the far side of a jam-packed The Four’s, a sports bar and restaurant just a wrist shot away from the Garden. “I knew it! I knew it!’’ she cried, as the bar heaved and thumped like the inside of a bass drum.

Soon after, Brown was in tears, the whole room calling out the final seconds as they ticked down, Brown and her sister, Kerry Adams, running through the crowd hugging strangers.

“I’m so happy for my boys!’’ said Brown, a Charlestown native. “We deserved this.’’

Outside on Causeway Street, the scene was every bit as celebratory, the atmosphere more jubilant than raucous — the Bruins headed for their first Stanley Cup finals appearance since 1990, and moving four wins from hoisting the Cup for the first time in 39 years.

“We won, we won, we did it!’’ said Jeanne Karr, 57, of Littleton, jumping for joy in a Milan Lucic T-shirt as fans around her mobbed Causeway, screaming “Let’s go, Bru-ins!’’ and “We want the Cup!,’’ as well as “U-S-A! U-S-A!’’ — the Bruins set to face Western Conference champion Vancouver in Game 1 on Wednesday in British Columbia.

People wagged the No. 1 sign, stood atop fire hydrants, and slapped five with people hanging out of passing cars, at least the ones that managed to get close to the Garden, where dozens of police kept control. Elsewhere, across the city and beyond, horns honked in celebration and fans cheered out of windows.

On a balmy night, sweaty fans wore lace-up Bruins sweaters and Bermuda shorts, flip-flops, and bear-claw foam fingers. At the core were the longtime fans, the ones who lived through the Big Bad Bruins era of the 1970s or wished they had; for them, it was intensely personal, even as they were joined by thousands of hockey newcomers, casual fans, and people just swept up in the excitement.

“We are on top of Boston!’’ said David Heard, 48, who drove from Derry, N.H., to attend the game. “This is a hockey town. This is exactly what these fans needed.’’

At the Cask ’n Flagon, by Fenway Park, a mostly younger crowd could not recall a time when the Bruins were the toast of Boston. “When you think of Detroit, you think of a hockey town,’’ said Breun Reed, of Chestnut Hill, watching a scoreless first period.

Nearby, Quinn Retmier, 23, could only imagine what it would be like to see the Bruins in the Cup finals. “My excitement level’s unbelievable right now,’’ said Retmier, of Brighton.

Monitoring the activity on Causeway, with dozens of officers in sight, Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said the crowd-control operation had gone smoothly, with two arrests for general disorderly conduct. Also, one officer was accidentally sprayed with pepper spray and had to have his eyes washed out in the players’ parking lot, but the officer returned to work.

At The Four’s, where spoked-B jerseys are framed on the wall and the signature sandwich is named for Bobby Orr, the line stretched down the block before the game and stayed that way through the third period, fans trickling in a few at a time to join a standing-room crowd. Eyes glued to the TV, smokers dared not duck out between periods because the doormen were sending them to the back of the line.

“I’ve never seen it like this. This is a whole other level of busy,’’ said Ryan Casey, a Dorchester 24-year-old working the door. “This is nuts.’’

Casey has just one season under his belt. Manager Marc Swirbalus, with 12 years at The Four’s, said he had not seen a crowd like this since the Celtics’ Game 6 of the NBA Finals in 2008.

“This is a lot different, because it’s hockey. It’s so much more intense,’’ he said.

“I thought the game was going to go easier,’’ said Meghan Hunt, 27, a lifelong Bruins fan from Somerville. “It’s really, really nerve-racking.’’

Hunt was watching with her friend, Eddie Jones, 28, a Virginia transplant watching his third hockey game ever.

“As of 50 minutes ago, I’m a diehard Bruins fan right now,’’ he said.

Before the puck dropped, fans downing pregame beers projected confidence, but some confessed to a case of nerves.

“I’m so nervous,’’ said Bryce Guilbeault, 29, a substitute teacher from New Bedford who contemplated selling his ticket because he thought it would be too wrenching in person, win or lose. “You live and die by it.’’

Globe correspondent Neal J. Riley contributed to this report. Eric Moskowitz can be reached at emoskowitz@globe.com, Travis Andersen at tandersen@globe.com, and L. Finch at lfinch@globe.com.

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