BOSTON -- Despite the Boston Bruins' shootout loss, their fans and the city of Boston still won.
For a few hours Wednesday night at TD Garden, the people of Boston and fans of the Bruins could at least forget about reality and enjoy the first sporting event in the city since Monday's Boston Marathon bombings.
The game ended in a 3-2 shootout win in favor of the Buffalo Sabres, but when the game ended, players from both teams skated to center ice and saluted the fans. In the Bruins' locker room afterward, the mood was somber.
"We feel like the fans deserved it tonight and we couldn't get it done for them," said Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron. "It's hard right now to feel like you've won because they deserved better. The city, the fans are winners for sure. It was something special to be a part of."
In the middle of the locker room, there was a stall with a Bruins black home sweater with No. 617 (Boston's area code) on the back, an American flag patch and a "Boston Strong" name plate. A black helmet with the same number and the blue and yellow decal sat on the top shelf next to a pair of Warrior gloves.
"Emotions were really high," said Bergeron. "You wanted to do it for the city, for the fans, and the feeling was great. The fans were awesome and I thought the ceremony was what Boston is all about -- proud. We had some really good energy throughout the game, and the fans were awesome as well."
The pregame ceremony was amazing. Words really can't describe the emotion of 17,565 in attendance singing the national anthem. A "Boston Strong" video with images of heroes and first responders was shown on the video board. Plenty of people, including the players, were wiping tears from their faces.
"We all reacted to that video and it touched not only the people who were here tonight, but everyone at home, too, watching. It's something we'll never forget," said Bruins forward Brad Marchand.
As Bruins coach Claude Julien stood on the bench behind his players during the anthem, he took a moment to realize how proud he is to be a member of this community and the coach of this group of players who played their hearts out.
"It was pretty emotional. In a way, it makes you feel proud of the city and of our fans and the solidarity that was shown throughout this whole thing," Julien said. "I'm proud of this city for how it responded tonight."
During the pregame ceremony, a hologram of the blue and yellow "Boston Strong" ribbon appeared on the ice. With the arena in near darkness, Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg stood on that ribbon, along with defensive partner Andrew Ference.
"It was a pretty emotional start," Ference said. "Me and Seids were beside each other during the anthem, trying to hold it together. It was pretty awesome hearing everybody sing like that, and obviously the emotions were pretty high. We all knew tonight was more than just another game and it meant to a lot of people another step, and it was no different for us on the ice, trying to have some remembrance of the last couple of days but also move on as well, getting back to business in the city."
Ference admitted he was choked up during his first shift and it was difficult to settle down and concentrate on hockey.
"I can't remember being that emotional on the ice, except for the last few seconds when we won the Cup [in 2011]. I think that's about the only equal as far as emotions," Ference said.
The fans are always loud and boisterous at TD Garden regardless of the Bruins' opponent. En route to the team's Stanley Cup title in 2011, those playoff games were the loudest this building had been in recent history.
Until Wednesday night.
The chants of "We are Boston, we are Boston, we are Boston" and "USA, USA, USA" sent an emotional ripple through the Garden that will never be forgotten by anyone in attendance, including the players from both teams.
"It was definitely giving every guy goose bumps on the ice, and I'm sure throughout the building," Marchand said. "We created a lot of energy from that. It was incredible just how much everyone loves this city and you see that from those chants that's everyone's together, it was just a whole different atmosphere."
Almost lost in the night was the fact that the Bruins earned a point and clinched a berth in the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs.
"There are a lot of positives to take out of this game, but we really wanted to do it for the city, for the fans, and it's very disappointing to not get that extra point, especially late in the game like that," Bergeron said.
At the end of the game, the Bruins' flagship radio station, 98.5 The Sports Hub, announced its three stars of the game. The Bruins' Chris Kelly received the third star. The Sabres' Thomas Vanek received the second star. And the No. 1 star of the game was given to the city of Boston.
"The people here are amazing, a very resilient group," said Bruins forward Shawn Thornton. "This will only make everyone stronger."
As far as both teams coming to center ice after the game, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara spoke with the Sabres during the pregame warm-up about acknowledging the fans in that way.
"Unfortunate events like this puts things into perspective," Thornton said. "We play a game for a living. There are a lot more important things in life than playing hockey, and paying your respects to the people definitely shows that."
The loss was disappointing. But the display of community togetherness helped this city alleviate its pain for at least a few hours Wednesday night. Fans leaving the building were still chanting, "We are Boston, we are Boston, we are Boston."
"They're awesome, proud people," Ference said of the fans. "In that instance, they really weren't cheering for us. They were cheering for our city and cheering for themselves more than anything. It was pretty cool for everybody just to get back to having some memories of sports and good things happening."
A good thing did happen at the Garden on Wednesday night -- there were no losers, despite what the scoreboard said.