April 17, 2013 is more than just a date. It was the day Boston and all of New England began to heal.
Two days earlier, two explosions rocked Boylston Street near the finish line at the 116th running of the Boston Marathon. A day that was supposed to honor a tradition that had been held since 1897 turned into a day of sorrow, pain, and loss. Three people lost their lives while over 200 were injured. A majority of the wounded lost limbs in the attacks and with it any sense of normalcy in their lives. The entire city was knocked off of its collective feet as they began to pick up the pieces in the days ahead.
The following Wednesday night, TD Garden played host to the first sporting event in Boston since the tragedy. The Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres were set to face off in a nationally televised division matchup over 48 hours after the catastrophe occurred.
It proved to be much more than just simply a hockey game.
17,565 = 1
What transpired that night will forever live on in the hearts and minds of not just the 17,565 that were in attendance but the entire country.
Chants of “Lets Go Bruins” rang around the Garden before a moment of silence for the victims and first responders who were there that day. An emotional pregame video tribute appeared on the jumbotron soon after. At the end, the sun rose over Boston and concluded with a phrase that accurately reflects the city and its people to this day.
“We are Boston. We are Strong.”
Simultaneously, a blue and yellow ribbon with the words “Boston Strong” appeared on the ice.
A rousing rendition of the American National Anthem soon followed, sung by the Garden crowd. It brought tears to the eyes of many who belted out its iconic words and an overwhelming sense of pride for everyone.
That night, 17,565 people became one. The common cause of this night soon became clear: it was about much more than just two points in the standings. The game served as an escape to the terrible events that took place two days earlier. It served as a comforting sign that no matter what, Boston would bounce back from even the worst the world had to offer.
A Show of Solidarity
The Bruins would go on to lose in a shootout, but the outcome never truly mattered.
In the respective locker rooms postgame, the focus was on what the game meant more than its result.
“It was extremely emotional. I was fighting back tears.” – Bruins forward Brad Marchand
“It’s a game more about coming together and giving people here something a bit more normal today.” – Then-Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller
As a show of solidarity when the game was over both teams united at center ice and raised their sticks to the appreciative crowd. It was met with chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” by the remaining spectators. The players knew their purpose on the night. The fans showed their appreciation with a simple gesture of thanks.
Three days later against Pittsburgh, 17,565 reconvened at the Garden. This time, it was a celebration.
The suspect believed to be responsible for the attacks was captured the night before after a day-long lockdown. Boston’s week-long nightmare was finally over.
The crowd delivered an encore performance by singing the National Anthem with gusto.
On Fan Appreciation Day, the club (at the request of the season-ticket holders) gave the “shirts off their backs” to the first responders who risked their lives on Marathon Monday.
Throughout the playoffs, they continued to honor the victims of the attack as honorary fan banner captains prior to each home playoff game.
As for the Bruins themselves, they rode the wave of “Boston Strong” to make a memorable run to the Stanley Cup Finals. The crown jewel was their game seven, third period comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. After Patrice Bergeron scored in overtime to win the series, fans could sense there was something special going on with their club.
Their storybook run ended at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks in six tough games.
Two years to the day, the Bruins and Sabres did their part to help Boston heal from a tragedy. The TD Garden was a sanctuary of calm amongst all the chaos. It was more than just a hockey game, it was step one of the healing process.
It was also the unofficial birthplace of a slogan, a way of life that rang true then, now, and will continue to do so in the future.
“Boston Strong”. Forever and always.