BOSTON, MA - There are no words that can lay the foundation for the raw emotions that will be in full effect tonight at TD Garden, when the Bruins face off against the Buffalo Sabres in the first major sporting event since Monday's tragic events at the Boston Marathon.
Nothing can convey the chills that will start with the heavy hearts of everyone in attendance, watching on TV, listening on the radio, following along, and will run down their spine, through trembling knees, and teary eyes.
Eighty first responders will be in attendance tonight, thanks to the efforts of Bruins' players and team staff to donate their tickets to the game. The responders will include members of the Boston and Massachusetts State Police, Boston Fire and EMS - the heroic, brave souls who ran straight towards the blasts on Monday, and didn't look back.
More than 48 hours after the tragedy that hit the core of Boston, the meaning of tonight's game is not lost on the Bruins. We've seen the outpouring of support from not only Boston sports teams, but also other NHL and sports communities around the world. The power of sports in the cathartic process of healing cannot be diminished.
"The one thing that I sense from our team is that we have the ability to maybe help people heal and find some reason to smile again, by giving them that, by representing our city properly," said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien prior to the game. "To me, this is a time where you are proud to be associated with a professional team, even the NHL and all professional sports."
"When you look at the support this city has had from rivals and everything else, that are giving us support at this time, it’s amazing. We have an opportunity here to make our city proud. I think we’re all in for it and hopefully we can do that for this city right now."
The Bruins and Sabres will both be wearing 'Boston Strong' decals on their helmets tonight in support of Boston. A moment of silence, 'Boston Strong' themed video, and thunderous national anthem by Garden legend Rene Rancourt will all fill the game with reasons to cheer.
"I'm sure it'll be full of emotions after obviously what happened on Monday. Your thoughts and prayers go out to everyone that was affected," said Bruins' center Chris Kelly following Wednesday morning's pregame skate. "And hopefully we can go out and play hard for the city of Boston."
"This is your home, this is what you represent as a professional organization. The first thing you do is you want to help out; you want to do the best you can," said Coach Julien.
"We did that for Newtown; I’ll tell you what, there wasn’t a better feeling than going there and then trying to spread some joy and put smiles on some people’s faces. Our goal is to do the same thing here with this city and everyone that was involved in this tragedy."
When I joined Coach Julien and the B's on the visit to Newtown in February, it was an emotional experience to spend time with those affected by the tragedy, but it was also a spirited, uplifting day, seeing how something as simple as street hockey could bring the kids and families so much joy.
And that's exactly what the Bruins are hoping tonight's game will provide for the city - a few hours to switch the channel away from the news, and watch a simple, exciting hockey game between two Northeast Division rivals.
"It's not easy, obviously, going forward at this time," said forward Daniel Paille, mirroring the thoughts at the core of all Bostonians right now. "But we have to."
"Obviously, we have a lot to play for tonight. For us, we not only need to be ready, but we need to show that we want to support everyone in the city."
"It's going to be emotional in the beginning," acknowledged B's center David Krejci. "They're going to show respect, but after that for the next two, two-and-a-half hours, we just got to play the game. That's all we can do, to give something to Boston to be happy about."
Not only are the Bruins aware of tonight's importance - the team on the other side of the ice understands what this means for the city of Boston.
"It's going to be a lot of energy, for sure, and during that time my thoughts and prayers will be with the families and the victims," said Buffalo forward Nathan Gerbe, who lived in the city during his college years at Boston College. "I know they're going to come out with every thing they've got because this is their city and this is the fans they love, too. It's going to be a lot of fun to play this game."
Gerbe, who has attended the Marathon in previous years, also knows firsthand the resiliency of the people in Boston.
"The fans are going to be proud to show their true colors and their faith for the team and the city."
For the Bruins, knowing tonight's emotion-filled game will affect them on a personal level, they're hoping they can focus their attention on the game once the puck drops.
"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," said Coach Julien.
"You’re fighting with emotions and you’re fighting focus. I think you’ve got to be strong in those situations. The best thing we can do right now is really focus on our job to make things better for the people of Boston. We know that sports is a great way to help people heal, not just our sport, but every sport in this city."
"This town is going through some tough times right now. I saw on TV yesterday, the people help each other, they stuck together," said Krejci, on Boston banding together.
"It's good to see Boston get even closer together. But I already knew about it - I knew Boston was a great city. The only thing you can do is go out there tonight and try to win for Boston. That's what we're focusing on as a team."