Boston's Heroes, Fans Saluted by Bruins, Sabres

April 18--The Chicago Stadium was, in the minds of many, the very best place ever to watch a hockey game. And on Jan. 19, 1991, for a few very special minutes, it may well have been the best place to be in America.

That was the day the NHL All-Star Game was held at the Stadium, days after the start of the initial Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, in which Americans fought to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's armed forces. And during the national anthem, the crowd of 20,000-plus stood and cheered, creating an unbelievable volume of noise.

A sign in the stands read, "Let's show the world how we do it in Chicago."

Well, last night it was Boston's turn to show the world -- and help a heartbroken city take a small step forward in the process of healing after the nightmare events at the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday.

The night didn't have the proper Hollywood ending. The Bruins didn't win, dropping a 3-2 decision to the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout and settling for the single point they needed to clinch a playoff berth.

But with the emotions running very high even before the opening faceoff, the players knew that, on this night, winning and losing didn't matter all that much.

"No, it really didn't," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said following his first game back since suffering a concussion. "It was about the city coming together. It was very special to be part of it, definitely a night I'll remember."

Players on both teams recognized that the best gift they could give Boston was just to play and allow people to forget, even if just for a couple of hours.

"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," Bruins coach Claude Julien said before the game.

Upon taking the ice, the Bruins were greeted with a thunderous ovation and then joined the sellout Garden crowd in watching a video salute to the first-responders at Monday's horrific scene on Boylston Street. The tribute closed with a stamp of the theme for the night: "We are Boston. We are Strong."

"It was incredible. Watching that video was really special for everyone," Bruins winger Brad Marchand said. "You really see why Boston is such a special city, how everyone has come together and united through all of this. This was another example.

"You're with thousands of people you don't know, but it's like we're all one. It was special and very emotional."

Both the Bruins and Sabres players had "Boston Strong" decals on their helmets.

Then came the national anthem, sung for only a few moments solely by Rene Rancourt before the nearly 18,000 on hand sang the rest, with as much energy and passion as the song's ever been sung.

Then another monster ovation, chants of "U-S-A," and then, "Let's Go Boston." Not "Let's Go Bruins" . . . "Let's Go Boston."

"Me and (Dennis Seidenberg) were standing together during the anthem and just trying to hold it together," Bruins defenseman Andy Ference said. "It was pretty awesome hearing everyone sing like that.

"Obviously the emotions were pretty high. We all knew this was not just another game. It meant a lot to people as another (healing) step. It was no different for us on the ice with the memory of the last couple of days."

"Bruins players and staffers combined to donate 80 tickets to first-responders, including police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel. The B's pledged $100,000 to the One Fund Boston, which will raise money for families impacted by the bombings. The Garden, the NHL and the NHL Players Association each made $50,000 pledges.

After the game came to its disappointing conclusion, with Sabre Drew Stafford scoring the lone goal of the shootout, both teams gathered at center ice and raised their sticks in salute to the fans. It was an idea suggested by Sabres captain Thomas Vanek to B's captain Zdeno Chara during a brief meeting at center-ice during the pregame warmup.

"It was a no-brainer, I think, for everyone on both sides," Bergeron said. "At the end of the day, it was very disappointing not to get the win. But if you look at the big picture and what's happened the last couple of days, it was the perfect way to end the game."

Said Marchand: "We just wanted to say thanks. We want them to know we're thinking of everyone. They're in our thoughts and prayers."

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