There are two lasting images from Wednesday night in TD Garden.
One was the emotional national anthem started by longtime Boston crooner Rene Rancourt and finished by the fans. The other was the stick salute both teams gave to the sellout crowd after the Sabres completed their shootout victory over the Boston Bruins.
The sign of unity the Sabres and Bruins showed in the face of the Boston Marathon bombings was a huge national topic Thursday morning on network news shows and across the Internet. Still pictures have landed in newspapers and websites all over North America.
Where did the idea come from? Bruins players said Wednesday night it was the thought of Sabres star Thomas Vanek.
“Even though they play in that city, it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” Vanek said after practice Thursday in the Northtown Center at Amherst. “Buffalo, my case Europe, or whatever. Everyone gets affected by it.
“We didn’t think about the publicity it’s getting. For us, it was just to appreciate the people who came. The atmosphere was unbelievable. It’s a few hours away from something you have to not think about. It was good for everyone, a good few hours.”
“It was a no-brainer for everyone I think on both sides,” Boston center Patrice Bergeron said. “And I think it was the perfect way to end the game.”
Vanek broached the idea at the morning skate with fellow alternate captains Steve Ott and Drew Stafford and took it to Buffalo’s training staff. They relayed it to the Bruins’ side of the room, and the plan was finalized on the ice during the pregame warm-up when Vanek briefly chatted with Boston captain Zdeno Chara.
“It was spectacular I thought,” said Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston. “Just seeing that picture, you don’t see that a lot in sports.”
“We were all playing for Boston,” added Ott. “It puts it in perspective. When you’re a hockey player, to be able to live through that experience and that game, it was absolutely surreal.”
Vanek and several of his teammates walked to the barricades on Boylston Street on Tuesday night and saw a barren landscape in the place of the bustling street’s normal activity.
“Seeing it on the news and seeing it in person is a lot different,” Vanek said. “People were upbeat, positive. That goes a long ways. Anytime something like that happens, you put hockey and whatever you’ve got on the side. You think about your own family and the other families. It’s a tough thing.”
As for the anthem, it’s almost sure to become a time-tested YouTube classic. Veteran hockey reporters were comparing it Thursday to the version nearly drowned out by the roaring crowd at the 1991 All-Star Game in old Chicago Stadium, played at the start of the Persian Gulf War. Rancourt told WEEI Radio in Boston on Thursday morning he was concerned about getting too emotional to finish the song and a Bruins official suggested letting the crowd help him.
“It was unbelievable. It was cool,” Vanek said. “It was one of those moments you’re happy you were part of it. The atmosphere was electric. Even as a visiting team, it seemed like it was one big happy crowd. It was a good game. It was something I won’t forget and I’m sure a lot of guys won’t either.”
“I had chills just looking around,” said winger Brian Flynn, a Massachusetts native. “I don’t think there was one person in the stands that wasn’t singing.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Ryan Miller’s 41 saves Wednesday gave him an NHL-high four wins this season when facing 40-plus shots. Miller entered Thursday’s game leading the NHL in shots against (1,183) and saves (1,082). He has faced 66 more shots and made 48 more saves than any other NHL goalie.
Miller’s .928 save percentage in five-on-five play is equal to what he had in his Vezina Trophy year of 2009-10. Where his overall numbers have suffered are on opponents’ power plays (.860) and opponents’ short-handed situations (.875).
Miller has excellent numbers against the New York Rangers, the opponent in tonight’s key game in First Niagara Center. He’s 8-2-4 in his last 14 games against the Rangers with a 1.71 goals-against average and .943 save percentage, allowing three or more goals just twice in those 14 games. It would be Miller’s 498th career game. … The Rangers will be without Brian Boyle for tonight’s game after he suffered a leg injury Tuesday in Philadelphia. They called up Chris Kreider from Connecticut of the AHL. … Vanek’s first-period goal Wednesday was the 247th of his Buffalo career, tied with Mike Foligno for sixth all-time in franchise history.