BOSTON — Emerging from a moment of silence with a deafening cheer, fans at Wednesday night’s Bruins game paid tribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing with a stirring national anthem and a thunderous chant of “U.S.A.!”
The sold-out crowd at the first major sporting event in the city since Monday’s attack lined up for metal-detecting wands and random car inspections to get into the TD Garden. Once inside, they watched a somber video with scenes from the marathon that ended with the words, “We are Boston, We are Strong.”
The players on the ice for the opening faceoff banged their sticks in the traditional hockey salute, drifting back off the blue lines so that they, too, could see the video. The Boston Fire Department Honor Guard brought out the U.S. flag to honor the first responders who rushed to the aid of the three killed and more than 170 injured by the twin bombs at the marathon finish line.
Longtime Boston Garden troubadour Rene Rancourt took his place for the “Star-Spangled Banner.” But he sang only the first few lines, allowing the crowd to carry the tune while he pumped his fist to keep time.
It was an emotional return to normal life for the city, which has been dazed by the attacks on one of its signature and most beloved events. Monday’s scheduled NHL game against Ottawa was rescheduled, and Tuesday night’s Celtics game was canceled outright.
The Bruins said they were determined to help the city move on.
“You’re trying to live your life in peace, and there’s people trying to disrupt that,” coach Claude Julien said after the team’s morning skate. “The people trying to live their life in peace are going to stick together.”
Players on both teams wore “Boston Strong” decals on their helmets, and the Garden was illuminated outside in blue and yellow, the colors of the marathon organizers, the Boston Athletic Association. Another thunderous cheer welcomed the first responders from the state and local police were recognized in the second period.
“I’m sure tonight will be full of emotion,” forward Chris Kelly said Wednesday morning. “If we can go play hard to help the city of Boston in any way we can, I know everybody in this locker room would be willing to do that.
“We love the city. We want to help in any way we can -- if we can give them 10 minutes of joy, or 20 hours of joy -- anything we can do.”
That was already accomplished 5:45 into the first period, when Daniel Paille’s goal to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead over the Buffalo Sabres brought a raucous chant of “We are Boston!” The chant was repeated in the final three minutes but interrupted by Cody Hodgson’s power-play goal with 26.6 seconds left in regulation that sent the game into overtime tied 2-2.
The Sabres won in the shootout, but the point was enough for the Bruins to clinch a playoff spot. After the game, the players came off the bench and went to center ice, raising their sticks to the fans, who began another “U.S.A.!” chant.
Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs pledged $100,000 to The One Fund Boston, the charity established to help families affected by the bombing; the Garden, the NHL and the players association pledged $50,000 each. Ads on the dasher boards and the video screens gave the website address for the fund.
Bruins players and staff collected 80 tickets to the game to donate to the first responders. Forward Brad Marchand raffled off his own suite for the team’s first playoff game, with the proceeds to go to the family of 8-year-old Martin Richards, who was killed in the blast.
During the game’s first break, public address announcer Jim Martin asked any runners from Monday’s race to stand up; many were wearing their finishers’ medals. He then asked for applause for anybody who has ever run; by the time he recognized anyone who has ever volunteered or watched the race, virtually the entire crowd was standing.
“It’s a great day. It’s a great day for a lot of people,” said Bruins forward Jay Pandolfo, who went to Boston University. “There’s no reason for this to happen. You never thought something like this could happen, especially in the city of Boston. Stuff like this doesn’t cross your mind.”
Cars were searched inside and out before entering the arena’s underground garage in the morning, with guards using a mirror on a pole to check the undercarriage. Sports writers, usually subject to only the most cursory inspection, were waved with a metal-detecting wand when passing through security for the Bruins’ morning skate.
“It brings back memories you don’t want,” said Pandolfo, who was with the New Jersey Devils during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “It’s something you don’t want to think about. You want to go ahead with your life. You don’t want to live in fear.”
All of the Bruins players said they feel safe at the arena and walking around the city, commending authorities for the added security since the bombing. Any anxiety, Julien said, needs to be directed toward the game.
“It’s a different feeling, but you’re battling with your inner strength to not let it get the best of you,” he said. “The best thing we can do is to make things better for the people of Boston. Sports is a great way to pull people together. Just going out there making the city proud of their team, and that’s what we’re going to do.”