BOSTON — The Boston Bruins stumbled into the NHL playoffs, winning just three of their final 10 games and slipping to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Then, after blowing a 3-1 series lead in the opening round to the Maple Leafs, they escaped a dramatic Game 7 in overtime only after clawing back from a two-goal deficit with 90 seconds to play.
Since then, the Bruins have rolled through the competition, and now find themselves with a 2-1 edge in their Stanley Cup finals matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks, with the next game set for Wednesday night in Boston. History is on the Bruins' side: 21 of the 25 teams to win Game 3 after splitting the first two in a finals series have gone on to win the Stanley Cup.
For a city still rebuilding from a devastating April bombing that killed four people and injured 264, the Bruins' run has been incredibly inspiring, and a wonderful way for Bostonians to come together and overcome tragedy.
But in the hours before Monday night's game, the series' first in Boston, Bruins fans largely avoided discussing the attack as a parallel for their team's season. More commonly they said all the excitement around the team was merely reflective of the city's pre-existing interest in them, and that they were looking ahead, not back.
"We're focusing more on the future," said Thomas Marturano, who used to live one block over from the marathon's finish line, on Newbury Street. "If they lose, our city will still be strong."
"It's still just a game," he said.
A statue of John Singleton Copley, near the marathon finish line, adorned for the series. (Jon Terbush)
Jay Germani said he drove down from South Burlington, Vt., at 11:30 a.m. Monday to try and nab tickets outside the stadium. He went to such great lengths primarily because of what the team had meant to him through decades of fandom, not because of this season's tragedy. He recalled how he was just 8 when Bobby Orr went flying headlong, arms outstretched, after scoring "The Goal." That score clinched the 1970 Stanley Cup and made Germani a lifelong Bruins fan.
"It was incredible, years later, to come to the Garden, to the place where he did that," Germani said of visits to the site of that iconic goal.
Germani said he was at the Red Sox's traditional Patriots' Day game this year, but left for Connecticut when the game ended, about an hour before the bombs went off. Some of his friends had stayed nearby — one lived on Boylston Street — and like many others, he had no idea in the immediate aftermath who was all right and who wasn't.
His friends turned out to be fine, if unnerved. He said another Bruins title would "take a lot of the pain away for some people," but stressed that hockey is important itself, and distinct from the tragedy.
"Once the puck drops, then it's back to being a game," he said.
Republican Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez, who stood wearing his signature bomber jacket in a persistent rain outside the arena on Monday, shaking hands ahead of next week's special election, called the Bruins the "core of Boston."
"This game is going to go to whoever has more heart — and that's Boston," he said.
— Gabriel Gomez (@GomezForMA) June 18, 2013
Bubba Toussaint grew up a Bruins fan 15 miles north of Boston, in Reading, Mass. In his family, everyone played hockey. On Monday, standing with a friend who was compelling high fives from everyone who passed, Toussaint said the April attack hadn't so much changed the city as it had "brought up stuff that's been settled" into the city's bedrock for a long time.
"We're a city that, even though we have a huge traumatic event, we're still gonna go hard," he said.
"It's that backbone, like 'Hey, this is our city and we're still gonna be here,'" he added.
Hours later, the game was over. The Bruins had dominated from start to finish, winning 70 percent of the face-offs while taking more shots and dishing out more hits than Chicago en route to a shutout win. From a bar miles from the Garden, "Dirty Water" came on over the sound system. Patrons high-fived and cheered and drank.
The predominant mood wasn't somber or reflective. People talked about the game, dissecting its highlights, and hungrily discussed the rest of the series. It could have been the scene after any other playoff win in any other sports-crazed city, recent tragedy or not.
As one friend remarked, she didn't need a hashtag to remind her how she felt about her team and her city.
A makeshift memorial in Copley Square, one block from the Boston Marathon finish line. (Jon Terbush)