BOSTON, MA – Wednesday night at TD Garden, there was a hockey game to be played between the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres. But, it never felt like a game. It was more than that. It was an opportunity.
It was an opportunity for 17,565 Bostonians to come together after the tragic events at the Boston Marathon on Monday and remember and honor the victims. Most importantly, it was a chance to show the world that this city will always get back on its feet.
The quote from President Obama that led off a tribute video prior to the game said, “Boston is a tough and resilient town; so are its people.”
Its people delivered the message: Boston. Is. Strong.
From the moment the Bruins made their way to the ice just before game time, the emotion was at an immeasurable high. The crowd roared as it rose to its feet to greet their beloved Black & Gold.
Then, it was time for the tribute video set to the song ‘Home,’ with images of first responders and other heroes helping the injured.
The moment that will be remembered forever came when Rene Rancourt stopped singing the National Anthem after the first few words and let the Garden take over. There was not a dry eye in the house.
With the overwhelming emotion in the building, the players had to try and reel everything in and just play hockey.
“I don’t know,” said B’s Head Coach Claude Julien after the Bruins fell to the Sabres, 3-2, in a shootout, when asked if it ever felt like a normal hockey game. “I think through it all, our guys really wanted to battle hard and make it happen. We had a lot of chances and, sure, we probably didn’t bury those and we’d like to be better in regards to that, but the main goal is to go out there and really play well for the cause.
“I thought we played a really decent game. Unfortunately, sometimes bounces don’t go your way. They tied it up late in the game and I thought we probably deserved to win at that point.”
The Bruins led for most of the night, but with just 27 seconds remaining in regulation, the Sabres scored to tie it at 2, when Cody Hodgson tipped one past Anton Khudobin. Overtime was scoreless and Drew Stafford netted the only goal in the shootout to lead the Sabres to a victory.
“I thought we played well enough to win,” said Shawn Thornton. “I could be wrong. Maybe I’ll hear about it, but I thought the guys had a great effort out there. We had a ton of scoring chances. Tip your hat to [Ryan] Miller. He made some big saves, and maybe if we could have buried a few of those it would have been different.
“I think that the effort was there. I think everyone was going. It was a tough day to come to the rink and focus on hockey, but I thought the guys did a really good job of that.”
The B’s fed off the crowd early, when Daniel Paille scored just 5:45 into the game to put Boston on top, 1-0. Chris Kelly and Nathan Horton went in hard on the forecheck, with Kelly winning the battle for the puck and finding Paille out front.
The chants of “Let’s go Boston” and “We are Boston” echoed throughout the Garden for much of the night, stopping only briefly when the Sabres’ Thomas Vanek tipped a Christian Ehrhoff shot to tie the game with just over two minutes to go in the first period.
“It was extremely emotional,” said Brad Marchand of the night. “I was definitely fighting back tears [during the pregame]. To see again how everyone was reacting to that video, it obviously touched not only people who were here tonight but everyone at home, too, watching. It’s something that we’ll never forget. It’s great that everyone is kind of coming together at this time and helping each other out.”
At 14:48 of the middle period, the Paille-Kelly-Horton line struck again. Kelly knocked one past Sabres’ goalie Ryan Miller in the crease to put the Bruins up, 2-1.
“I thought we went out and played hard,” said Kelly. “It was nice to score but it’s such a small thing, especially on a night like tonight.
“We wanted to go out there and win that hockey game. I’m disappointed that we didn’t. We wanted to give the city something to be happy about. We went out and battled hard, I’m not taking that away from the guys but we really wanted to get the two points and hopefully put a smile on someone’s face. So, pretty upset that we didn’t [win].”
Numerous standing ovations took over the building during the game. Those who ran in Monday’s marathon were asked to stand, then those who had previously run were asked to stand, then those who have ever attended were asked to stand. Eventually, the entire building was standing as one.
During a TV timeout in the third period, first responders were honored on the Garden HDX video board and received a raucous standing-O from the Garden faithful.
When asked what moment he will remember the most from the night, Julien had trouble picking just one.
“The national anthem was pretty touching,” said the B’s coach. “And, obviously, everything that they did. I remember the video, I remember the national anthem and we even saw those people up there on the screen in the TV timeouts.
“And looking up there and realizing that those guys have done an unbelievable job for this city throughout this crisis and we should be grateful to a lot of people and we should also feel for the people that are going through it right now. I think we still do.”