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On a car-free Canal Street, bars and restaurants hope for a long playoff season

With both the Bruins and the Celtics in the playoffs, the establishments near TD Garden are welcoming a wave of foot traffic

Celtics fans made their way to TD Garden on Canal Street before Game 1 of the first-round playoff series between the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks in Boston on Saturday. Canal Street will be a car-free “playoff hub” for all Celtics and Bruins home games for the remainder of their respective seasons, allowing bars and restaurants to extend their patios and — they hope — benefit from extra foot traffic.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

There’s a joke among the staff of Hurricane’s at the Garden, the sports bar just steps from TD Garden: “It doesn’t matter if it’s raining out,” said general manager Nolan Hamilton, “the Bruins fans will sit outside just in order to get a couple of drinks in them and a meal in before they go to the game.”

And on a soggy Patriots Day that also rang in the start of the NHL playoffs, hardscrabble hockey fans did just that.

Though the record-setting Bruins were sharing the overcast Monday with the Marathon and the Red Sox game, Bruins fans had no trouble rallying for the 7:30 p.m. match against the Florida Panthers. A sea of black-and-yellow jerseys overtook the Hurricane’s patio for a pregame meal and drink, lined the barstools at Sullivan’s Tap, and streamed into The Greatest Bar. A smaller group of hungry patrons ambled into Pizzeria Rustico for hot slices.

Adding to the merrymaking: Mayor Michelle Wu announced last week that Canal Street would be a car-free “Playoff Hub” for all Celtics and Bruins home games for the remainder of their respective seasons — however long they may run. Approved bars and restaurants are permitted to extend their patios to the sidewalk, and pedestrians are free to gallivant with impunity for three hours before the games begin and an hour after the final buzzer sounds.

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So on Saturday, basketball fans got free rein of the corridor, and Monday was the puck heads’ turn.

“It’s a carnival-like atmosphere around here” during playoff season, said Hamilton, whose eatery was the only one with an expanded patio on Monday. “So that, mixed with shutting the street down and extending our patios, some other restaurants’ patios, it’s one big group celebration down here.”

Monday’s celebration was on the thinner side: Prior to the game, fans who were outdoors mostly congregated under the protective cover of the Garden’s massive entryway. Some devotees, however, braved the chill for a pregame ritual, like ducking in for a drink at Sullivan’s, a no-frills watering hole, or smoking a cigar on the walk to the stadium.

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Bruins fans in front of Hurricane's before Monday's game.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

“It’s nice to have a mecca,” said the cigar smoker in question, Scott Palmer of New Hampshire, who strolled down Canal with friend Brian Brown of North Andover before heading to the game.

But this dampened turnout is just the beginning: If both teams make it all the way to their respective Finals, TD Garden could be in for as many as 30 more games between now and June. It’s the outcome bars and restaurants surrounding the Garden — particularly those on Canal Street — are counting on.

At Hurricane’s, which set up sidewalk barriers and added about 60 or 70 seats to its existing patio for the occasion, business during the playoffs is double or triple what it is otherwise, said Hamilton. It’s an exhausting stretch: Before Saturday’s game, Hamilton came in to make sure all the taps were working and that they were stocked on silverware and plates.

“This means a ton to us in order for us to feel comfortable to take some time off and regroup over the next few months,” he said, adding that there’s talk of getting TVs outside, or perhaps a DJ. “It’s like our Christmas.”

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Sullivan’s isn’t adding any outdoor seating, but any extra foot traffic is still welcome, said manager Steph Scione, and they are hoping both teams “go very, very far,” she said.

“It does make for a short summer, which is also a nice thing, cause sometimes we go months without any events or games or concerts,” said Scione.

No one is hoping for a deep run more than Tyler Smith, the general manager of the soon-to-open sports bar Scores. It’s moving into the 6,300-square-foot space that was long occupied by beloved watering hole The Fours, a pandemic casualty that closed in 2020 after 44 years in business.

Scores, a sports bar moving into the Canal Street space formerly occupied by The Fours, pictured with TD Garden in the background.Courtesy of Scores

Scores is aiming to open April 28, said Smith, and they have already applied to extend their patio so they can ride the full playoff wave with an extra 60 to 70 al fresco seats (in addition to the nearly 400-person capacity inside).

“All we want to do is be able to get that extra square footage out front, be able to join in with all the city of Boston fans, and just celebrate with them,” Smith said. “While there’s gonna be a lot of foot traffic, and it might seem intimidating to some to open up to such high volume, it’s exactly what we want.”

The Canal Street car closure is the latest iteration of the mayor’s Open Streets programs. These warm-weather initiatives — which have temporarily pedestrianized roads from Back Bay to Jamaica Plain — are set to return this summer. Outdoor dining is also slated to come back to parking spaces and sidewalks in most parts of the city beginning May 1.

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Canal Street is no stranger to the transformation from roadway to walkway. In 2017, a car-free day was paired with a country music festival at the Garden. For the next two years, the Bruins hosted well-attended “fan fests” on the street, including for the playoffs.

But this year’s event marks the first public space program on the street since the pandemic, said Jay Walsh, executive director of the Downtown North Association, a civic group in the area. The goal, said Walsh, is to draw people back to the commercial area, which was hit hard by the pandemic-area dropoff in sports fans, concertgoers, and nearby office workers. In addition to The Fours, BeerWorks on Canal Street also shuttered during the pandemic.

“It’s the front door to the venue, so to have it activated and the festive atmosphere, it’s just good for people’s attitudes,” said Walsh. “The hope is that a lot of people want to come in earlier or stay later than they would otherwise.”

But what if the Bruins or Celtics get eliminated early on? Among Canal Street proprietors, there is a prevailing sentiment: Don’t jinx it.

“It’s always in the back of our minds: God, we don’t want a first-round exit from any of these teams,” said Hamilton. But when it comes to fan turnout, he’s less concerned: “Between both teams, we’re expecting the best.”

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Looking down Canal Street from the Causeway before the Bruins playoff game on April 17, 2023. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Dana Gerber can be reached at dana.gerber@globe.com. Follow her @danagerber6.