BOSTON -- It was clear walking into TD Garden on Wednesday morning that things were most definitely different.
There were “Delta Force”-style police assault vehicles parked outside. Homeland security officials in fatigues walking all around North Station. A sudden disappearance of all the large trash receptacle/recycle bins that are usually all around the North Station area. All fans driving into the TD Garden parking garage and entering the arena with a tickets were thoroughly checked.
For all those that truly worried about another terrorist attack at a local sporting event after Monday’s disgusting and despicable attack at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, it was a reassuring show of security and comfort. But the majority in attendance were coming to Causeway Street on Wednesday night with a few things on their mind.
Of course they wanted to see the hometown team win and put a smile on their faces walking out of the building, but that didn’t happen. The Bruins fell by a 3-2 score in the shootout after blowing a third-period lead in the final 30 seconds, though the point they earned enabled them to clinch a playoff berth and move into first place in the Northeast Division.
But Wednesday night wasn’t about the standings or another blown third-period lead. Instead it was about a city full of proud, unbending people healing from an unspeakable evil perpetrated upon them. It was about a show of unity, community, brotherhood, love and defiance as the eyes of the world were trained on Boston’s first sporting event since the cowardly bombing of innocents on Boylston Street.
Boston is full of stubborn and hard-headed people who are slow to change, wedded to their utterly provincial way of doing things, and sometimes reluncant to accept new people and ideas. But Bostonians it's also full of the most loyal and fiercely independent people on the face of the planet, people who will absolutely never, ever choose the path of least resistance if pushed in that direction by outside forces.
So they were determined to make a statement to the rest of the world that people in Boston won’t alter their lives one iota just because some radically evil element wants to inflict pain and damage.
“[It was] tough to keep a dry eye after the memorial on the big screen,” said Shawn Thornton, who, along with Andrew Ference, makes Boston his home year-round after spending the last six years with the Bruins. “To hear the crowd singing like that is pretty special. It was great to see the support by the 18,000 or whatever here. It was definitely a different experience, but great to see everyone rallying around each other . . . [it] doesn’t surprise you in this city.”
The “Boston Strong” video and ensuing Star Spangled Banner -- started by Rene Rancourt and finished by nearly 18,000 voices singing in patriotic unison -- was an electric beginning to the evening, and it didn’t leave many dry eyes in the house. You could see the emotions plain as day on the Bruins players as they fought to keep their composure on the ice knowing they had a job to do.
But it was easy to see Tyler Seguin biting down hard on the collar of his jersey to keep from crying on the ice. Patrice Bergeron staring straight ahead ready to play one of the best games of his life for the city that’s become his adopted home despite missing the last 15 days due to the fourth concussion of his career. Both Andrew Ference and Dennis Seidenberg with eyes welling up and overcome by emotion (they both have young children with whom they've had difficult conversations over the last few days about the evil in this world.) Brad Marchand with his eyes closed deep in thought, and perhaps thinking about 8-year-old Martin Richard, who was one of the casualties and whose stricken family Marchand will help by personally raffling off his TD Garden suite for the first game of the playoffs.
“It was extremely emotional,” said Marchand. “I was definitely fighting back tears. 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 we’ll never forget. For everyone to show their respect and obviously give their thoughts and prayers for everyone, it’s great everyone is kind of coming together at this time and helping each other out.
“I think it’s going to continue. With how everyone was tonight and the atmosphere, the way everyone came together, it’s not something you can let go of. It’s something that’s just going to continue to build from here. Everyone is just going to keep getting stronger and stronger, and continue to unite and fight through this.”
They are Bruins players and professional athletes, of course, but they also showed just how much they are Bostonians like the rest of us after living through the hell of the last few days. Everybody who showed up at TD Garden on Wednesday night was determined to honor the victims lost and severely injured in the Marathon Monday bombings, to shower the first responders in attendance with the kind of appreciation befitting their courageous and selfless acts in the face of terrifying circumstances and to show strength, unity and defiance in the wake of evil forces that would try to shatter Boston into a million frightened pieces.
But that will never in a city that responded with “Boston Strong” and nearly 18,000 voices blending to celebrate the “Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave.” Mission accomplished by the Boston Bruins, the TD Garden and the proud citizens of Boston, who that showed up en masse to honor those hit hard on Marathon Monday, and once again showed that our tenacious city will always be indivisible when the forces of evil try to shake us.