Seems like a lot of people became habs fans around this time. Was this a determining factor in following the team for those of you who started watching them at that time?
Definitively. I was a teen back then and didn't care much about other things than my life (as most teens do) so hockey wasn't a big deal for me. I knew little about Hab history and they sucked for most of my youth before that moment so I had little interest in watching them : I was a child the last time they iced a competitive team. My brothers, who watched hockey when at home, left around that time and my dad (having grown up watching those ridiculous overstacked teams that won every two years for decades) hates watching teams that don't win by a margin of three goals or more so he would rarely watch it more than a period.
When I saw Saku's return I understood the significance of the game, how it was somehow more than just a silly sport. I proceeded to watch the incredible playoffs that year and rapidly became a fan of this small but fast and determined team of underdogs. Since then I rarely miss games. The team also got more competitive and interesting to watch in subsequent years.