BOSTON – There might not be a dry eye in the house by the time the puck drops at TD Garden on Wednesday night.
Pregame tributes are certain to feature a moment of silence and other memorials to the victims of the bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday. The Boston Bruins' helmets will be adorned with a decal of a blue-and-yellow ribbon with the words "Boston Strong."
But once the pregame rituals are through, it'll be time for the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres (7:30 p.m., NBCSN) to play the first major sporting event in The Hub since those fatal attacks.
This is the time of year when teams typically don't have a problem focusing on the on-ice goal at hand. The Bruins and Sabres have a handful of regular-season games remaining. The Bruins are playing for positioning in the Eastern Conference, and the Sabres are fighting for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
However, hockey might be a little harder to focus on Wednesday night.
"For us, we have to learn to focus," Bruins forward Daniel Paille said. "Obviously it's going to be very emotional to begin with and everyone around us is going to be very emotional. But we do have a game to play in the end and we have to be ready for everything because Buffalo's fighting for a spot and we have to be ready for that."
The Bruins have sold out 148 straight games, and Wednesday night is expected to be another packed house. Despite the rawness of the tragic events from Monday, many in Boston are ready for a diversion from the impact the bombings have had on their life.
Playoff games and contests against some of the Bruins' biggest rivals like the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers typically elicit a more emotional outburst from the Garden crowd from the time warm-ups start until the game begins. And that emotion can sometimes inspire a greater performance from the Bruins. But there's no precedent for how the Bruins will respond to a different type of emotional outpouring from the fans.
"I think, ideally, at the end of the day, you want to make sure you do the right thing; and the right thing is to play the best game you can tonight," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "That's important for us and that's what you should do. Whether the emotions get high and whether it plays a role, you just hope that it doesn't affect what you're trying to accomplish here. We want to do our part and our whole team is thinking that way right now."
Since the attack Monday, there has been an outpouring of unity and support for the city from sports teams throughout the NHL and other leagues. That support continued Wednesday after the Sabres finished their morning skate. The Sabres' roster includes some American-born players and some with ties to Boston.
Nathan Gerbe was a star at Boston College before he started his NHL career. He's attended the marathon in the past and played in some important games at the Garden.
Boston Marathon Tragedy Coverage
He's looking forward to helping his former home heal as part of his team's drive for a playoff spot.
"It's going to be a lot of energy, that's for sure," Gerbe said. "And during that time [pregame] my thoughts and prayers will be with the families and the victims. But once the puck drops it's going to be good to play with the emotions like that and we know they're going to come out with everything they've got because this is their city and this is the fans they love too. So it's going to be a lot of fun to play this game."
Prior to the game, the Bruins announced a number of team initiatives intended to support those affected by the Boston Marathon tragedy. They include a $250,000 donation to The One Fund Boston, a charity established this week by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino to help the people most affected by the tragedy Monday. The team also donated 80 tickets for this game to first responders -- including Boston police, state police and city firefighters and emergency medical personnel -- who assisted victims of the bombing.
Like the fans, Bruins players have been bombarded with images and stories from Monday that are impossible to forget. So while their perspective may have been altered and hockey might seem a little less significant, there's a game to play. The Bruins went through an up-tempo practice Tuesday then skated hard Wednesday. The Sabres also got down to business during their pregame workout on the ice.
If ever there was a time to separate life as a player and life as a person, this game will be it.
"Two days ago I watched it, then we practiced [Tuesday]. I thought we had a really good practice. Then I watched it again all day [Tuesday] and today I think we had a good practice again," Bruins center David Krejci said. "I guess it's just focusing on what's important at a moment. When I'm home, I want to know the news, what's going on in Boston. Once I get to the rink, I've just got to play my game. That's just what I've got to do I guess."
That's what both teams will attempt to do Wednesday at TD Garden.