How the Bruins helped lift the city, and why last night's loss ultimately doesn't matter

Jared Wickerham

You know, at the end of the day, I think that's what hurts the most is in the back of our minds, although we needed to focus on our team and doing what was going to be the best thing for our team to win a Stanley Cup, in the back of our minds we wanted to do it for those kind of reasons, the City of Boston, what Newtown has been through, that kind of stuff. It hit close to home, and the best way we felt we could try and cheer the area was to win a Stanley Cup. I think that's what's hard right now for the players. We had more reasons than just ourselves to win a Cup.

- Claude Julien

Say what you will about the Boston Bruins' 2013 season: I'm of the absolute belief that for what it was, this team was exactly what it needed to be.

This shortened season was bizarre. From the events that happened in Connecticut when the season should have been going on, to the lockout itself, to the snowstorm-cancelled game, to the events of April 15. But one thing this season proved: the Bruins are an intrinsic part of the fabric of the City of Boston and the surrounding region, and that's actually a really cool, incredibly heartening thing.

Immediately after the horrible events of April 15, the yellow-and-blue marathon ribbon began appearing in the Garden. Support, strength, pride in our city -- it was obvious and awesome everywhere in TD Garden. It was a comfort, and it provoked a sense of belonging deeper than the usual black and gold trappings found in the building on normal days.

The Bruins lost that first game back, against the Buffalo Sabres. It was a forgettable game, to be sure; the Bruins played the Sabres five times last year, and at times those games seemed to run together. What wasn't forgettable: the Bruins and Sabres coming out together to stick salute the crowd.

Solidarity. Togetherness. The idea that hockey enmity is secondary to the things that matter the most.

That, ultimately, is what this team has been awesome at, and why it's very hard to be angry at the way the season ended. Sure, the game was a shocker, giving up a lead in just a few seconds; but a few hours removed from the abrupt end, the entire season comes together in a focus. It all comes down to the fact that the Bruins have been fantastic at providing to Bruins fans and the city at large one key thing: support. Small gestures like the stick salute, like the yellow-and-blue ribbons on the helmets, like replacing "Boston Brewin'" on the boards with "Boston Strong," like selling t-shirts that benefitted the One Fund. The Bruins didn't HAVE to do any of that. They had no obligation to throw their hearts and souls behind a city that many of them don't call home in the offseason; no obligation to do things like go to Newtown to play with kids affected by tragedy, especially after getting off a plane from Winnipeg at 3:30am; no obligation to hold raffles and auction jerseys and pour money into local charities.

Boston could easily just be a place of employment for the members of the Bruins.

But that's just not how this team operates.

In the playoffs, normally, it's go big or go home. In normal years, with no sadness or tragedy, guys lay their bodies on the line in pursuit of Lord Stanley's Cup. The PR gets bigger, the pregame stuff gets louder and more emotional, everything gets crazy.

This year was no different in that respect. The pass-around flag came out; the epic pre-game videos got even more epic, the fan banner captains were designated. The difference laid in the fact that rather than honoring Bruins legends, rather than trotting out Bobby Orr and Terry O'Reilly and John Bucyk, this year's fan banner captains were people affected by the Marathon events; they were Jeff Bauman and the BPD bomb squad. They were Adrianne Haslet-Davis and Sean Collier's family and Krystle Campbell's family and as they all stood there, before each game, 17,565 mad fans screaming in support of them as they waved the "Boston Strong" flag -- those raw injuries from all the crap we've gone through felt soothed, for a moment.

Some people frowned at it. Some other people called it exploiting a tragedy. Those people are not from here; those people clearly do not understand the bigger picture. Of course there are people involved who wouldn't want to take part in these moments; pressuring them into doing so would be exploitative, yes, and that wasn't done. These people, these skeptics, do not understand that our Boston Bruins are so closely woven into this community that this city is no longer just a place of employment; it's home, it's part of the fabric of their lives. "That stuff hits close to home," as Claude Julien said. Home.

And of course, those moments of clarity, of strength and city identity and hope were followed by awesome hockey. Games 1, 2, 5, and 7 - oh geez, game 7 - against Toronto; games 1, 2, and 5 against New York; Games 3 and 4 against Pittsburgh; and games 3, 4, and 6 against Chicago. Ten times we had the privilege of one of these Moments preceding an amazing sporting event.

It's silly to say that the Bruins have some sort of obligation to the city of Boston to win every game; they have, if anything, solely an obligation to their paying fans to put their absolute best effort forward every night, to be entertaining enough to be worth the top dollar fans pay to see them play. And so, support for people affected by the Marathon was expertly woven into the fabric of ten incredible hockey games, each more exciting than the last (except Toronto game 7; that was probably the greatest game of the playoffs.) After a struggle-laden regular season, to watch the Bruins make that spectacular comeback, then wipe the floor with the Rangers and Penguins? That was amazing and far beyond expectations.

And then they ran into the wall that was the hottest team in the NHL: the Chicago Blackhawks.

We had more reasons than just ourselves to win a Cup.

Each and every game the Bruins played beyond the regular season was a gift. Each and every body part that a Bruins player sacrificed to keep the season going was a gift. Yeah, the Gregory Campbell injury morphed into a dumb narrative; yeah, Patrice Bergeron went above and beyond, Nathan Horton as well, and probably countless other guys; and to be sure, most players would do that in the Stanley Cup Playoffs ordinarily. This time felt different, though; this time you had players talking about playing for the city, not just for the fans. And that was special.

I guess what I'm trying to say is thank you, Bruins, for keeping the season going this long; for making sure that we got to see the latest possible game at the TD Garden. This team has no responsibility to the city outside of being entertaining, but that's why they're so great -- because they go above and beyond those minimal expectations, they lay their bodies on the line so we can focus on something other than sadness, and for that, it's hard to hold a loss against them when they're broken to pieces. They gave their all, and while the result was maddening and frustrating and sad -- those emotions in sports are still amazing in their intensity and brevity.

Thank you, Bruins. It's been a really entertaining season, and that's all a fan could hope to ask for. You were exactly what we needed you to be. Don't feel badly about losing under these circumstances, at least not on our behalf. We're glad you're our team, because really, no other would do.

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