BOSTON — The line separating one team from the other disappeared as soon the game ended. The euphoria of a shocking comeback victory faded for Buffalo. The disappointment of letting a win slip away took a back seat for Boston.
Players from both teams put everything aside and skated to center ice to salute the people who really mattered. In doing so, they delivered a powerful message.
“We are Boston.”
The first sporting event in Boston since two explosions devastated Marathon Monday did exactly what it was supposed to do Wednesday. It created an enjoyable diversion for a grieving city that is eager to return to normalcy.
“We’ll enjoy this for the moment and try to reflect on what we were part of because this is a pretty big day for Boston as everyone starts to recover,” Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller said after a 3-2 shootout victory. “Everyone in this city has shown tremendous character, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from an American city. It just shows how great our society can be when we step up.
“It’s unfortunate such a horrible thing has to happen.”
The tragedy was at the forefront during a dramatic pregame video in TD Garden, and it continued throughout the game with tributes to runners, first responders and those who lost their lives or were injured during the act of terror. The fans chanted, cheered and stayed emotionally involved throughout.
The players responded by gathering at center ice and raising their sticks to salute the sellout crowd of 17,565.
“We feel for the City of Boston and the people involved,” Sabres center Cody Hodgson said. “The fans, you could tell, had a little something extra to give.”
The Sabres had a little something extra to take home after stunning the dominant Bruins.
Boston outshot the Sabres, 43-32, and held a 2-1 lead in the final minute of regulation. With Andrew Ference in the penalty box for delay of game and Miller on the bench for an extra skater, the crowd tried to will its team to victory with its heartfelt chant of “We are Boston.”
Hodgson ruined the storybook finish when Thomas Vanek’s pass hit the center’s shin pad at the side of the crease and caromed into the net. Drew Stafford completed the comeback by scoring the only goal of the shootout.
“That’s the benefit of having an unbelievable goalie,” Hodgson said. “We got dominated and outshot, but at the end of the day we found a way to win.”
Buffalo also stayed alive in the Eastern Conference postseason race. The 10th-place Sabres have 44 points, just two fewer than the eighth-place New York Rangers, though they have played two more games.
The Sabres host the Rangers on Friday in First Niagara Center, a game that could have been the last meaningful one of the season if the puck hadn’t deflected off Hodgson’s shin.
“That’s kind of what it takes at this stage of the season,” Miller said. “We’re going to need stuff to go our way. We held on long enough for it to go our way, and it gets us in a good position where if we win some hockey games we can write our own story. That’s a good thing.”
The Sabres understood the night was supposed to be all about Boston. Aside from winning the game, they went along for the ride.
“The video right before we had to play was pretty emotional, pretty raw,” said Miller, who couldn’t bring himself to visit the blast area. “I was able to watch and see how people responded and the energy of the crowd. The way people reacted, that was better than anything.
“The response here from the crowd, you can tell that this will make us only stronger. The game’s a small part of life. We hope people enjoy coming to watch us play. We like to play, but there are bigger things.”