It is 30 minutes before the opening faceoff, and the man in the skintight blue shirt and the droopy mustache is standing on a sidewalk of New York and haggling like a pushcart peddler.
There is a gleam in his eye and larceny in his heart as he pushes his face closer to a potential customer and asks, "So how much you wannagimme? How much you got on ya?"
"Two-hundred dollars," says the man in a pinstriped suit. "That's as high as I'll go."
"Then you ain't goin' inside, my man," blue shirt sneers. "I need $250."
The man in the pinstripe suit moves on, but soon another mark hoves in sight, and soon blue shirt scores. "Gonna pay some bills tonight," he says to a friend. And faster than a speeding puck, he is gone, away from the madness that is Madison Square Garden this night, this Stanley Cup champtionship night.
It has been 39 years since the N.Y. Rangers won a Stanley Cup title, and five years since they appeared in the finals. This year, after one of the most memorable semifinal series in cup history against their country cousins, the N.Y. Islanders, they are now battling the Montreal Canadiens for the coveted cup.
And so, it seems, every hustler in the world is outside the Garden tonight for the first game in New York. They hawk buttons, pennants, T-shirts, sweatshirts, jerseys, caps, pretzels, bumper stickers. One fellow is trying to sell a goalie mask with a Ranger insignia on the side.
The pushiest peddlers are the shirt entrepreneurs. They are on every corner for three blocks around the Garden, asking a mere $6 for a tacky T-shirt with a Ranger emblem in the front and a Stanley Cup on the back.
One nattily attired man in charcoal gray offers up a $10 bill to one peddler and asks to feel the material.
"Nothing but the best," says the shirt-man.
"Gah-bage," says the natty one, and walks away.
A Washington writer was walking toward the press entrance before tonight's game when a man walked up and offered to buy his press credential.
"I'll even write your story for you," he said.
Nobody ever made the writer that offer at the Capital Centre.
On the inside, the Garden seems far more sane than the street. The 17,000 fans fortunate enough to have tickets are hardly what an out-of-towner would expect to see at a New York sporting event.
Quite obviously these seats do not come cheap, and the crowd has a dapper, distringuished look about it. Three-piece suits and designer ties seem the exception rather than the rule, although there is one crazy in Indian head-dress and Ranger sweater who wardances through the stands on occasion.
Another fellow wears a homemade stovepipe hat, "Thirty-nine years is too long to wait," it says in front. "Lafleur (as the the Canadiens' Guy) is a weed," it says in back.
The crowd comes alive at the Garden even before the puck is dropped. The unfortunate soul asked to sing the Canadian anthem is booed upon introduction, and booed during the song.
The National Anthem, meanwhile, is sung by Billy Joel, and even before he gets to the final refrain, the crowds is up and cheering as one.
Still, the euphoria does not last long. When Steve Shutt puts Montreal into a 1-0 lead at 7:21 of the first period, and Doug Risebrough makes it 2-0 eight mimutes later, the Garden crowd goes into semi-coma.
Only referee Bob Myers' failure to call a penalty on a high-sticking Canadien bring out the beast in the New York fans.
Myers, Myers - - - -," they bellow boorishly.
Things get so dull late in the second period that one man in the upper balcony pleaded with his neighbor, "Won't you peple get up and cheer." Nobody does.
The Garden finally comes alive six minutes into the third period, on a freak puck-hit-skate goal off a faceoff by Ron Duguay. Now the masses are on their feet, standing, stomping, sending echoes of sound reverberating through the building.
But nine minutes later, all the shouting dies in sorrow when Mario Tremblay scores for a 3-1 Canadien lead, and the joint empties minutes later on Jacques Lemaire's drive with less than three minutes to play.
When it is over, a man in the row in front of the press box turns to a hard-working typist and says, "It ain't over yet, pal. Put that in your story. New Yorkers never do nothin' easy."
Except for the man in the blue shirt. At least he paid his bills.