Inspiration everywhere in Bruins' win
BOSTON - Moments after securing their first victory in nearly two weeks, the Boston Bruins remained on the ice and their fans in the stands.
In an emotional ceremony typically reserved for lucky season ticket-holders, the players shed their jerseys, signed them and presented them to first responders who bravely answered the call of duty in the aftermath of Monday's tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon.
It signaled a temporary end to one of the most trying weeks in the city's storied history.
"I don't think we've forgotten yet," Boston coach Claude Julien said after the Bruins' 3-0 win over the Florida Panthers on Sunday afternoon. "Obviously, everybody's trying to get back to normal, slowly but surely, and we're part of that group. Too much has happened in this past week to all of a sudden turn the corner and say, 'We've forgotten.' "We haven't, we never will. But at the same time, there's still some good electricity in the air and people out there are showing solidarity, which is great, and we're just trying to entertain them. Like I said from day one, to give them something to cheer about and something to smile about."
They had plenty to applaud Sunday as the team with the worst record in the league brought out the best in the Bruins.
Jaromir Jagr scored his second goal as a Bruin just minutes into the game, Dougie Hamilton added a second-period goal and Tuukka Rask posted his fourth shutout of the season, helping Boston snap a four-game winless streak, including three straight at home.
Brad Marchand added an empty-netter, his team-leading 18th goal of the year, with 1:22 left to seal the victory.
"It's part of our job to somehow help out people, somehow make them happy, help those people who are helping us and who are helping the city," Jagr said. "It's a small help, but at least it's the help we can do."
Boston moved into a tie with Montreal for the Northeast Division lead and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference entering the final week of the regular season. The Bruins have four games remaining and the Canadiens have three.
"It's good that there's something to play for," Rask said. "It's not the end of the world if you're not up there, but of course you want to be up there."
The victory closed out a harrowing week for the city of Boston, scarred by the horrific bombings at the finish of the marathon and the ensuing manhunt for the two suspects that locked down virtually the entire city late Thursday and throughout Friday.
Sunday's game was the second in a stretch of six games in nine days to conclude the regular season for the Bruins, who are in the midst of a reshuffled schedule after the attacks. In a game rescheduled because of the massive manhunt Friday, Boston lost 3-2 to Pittsburgh on Saturday and also had its Monday night game against Ottawa postponed after the bombings earlier in the day.
"That first game against Buffalo (on Wednesday), it was really emotional. We played a great game and it felt like we let the city down a bit, not being able to get that win, and then even yesterday," Rask said. "Things are kind of starting to settle down now, people are trying to get back to normal lives, so it's time to play hockey for us."
Jagr welcomes the crunched schedule down the stretch.
"Some guys don't like to play so many games in a short time, but I think it's going to help us," he said. "It's going to get us ready for the playoffs. I don't mind it at all."
The Panthers, losers of 10 of their past 14 games, have dropped six straight, getting outscored 30-8 during the skid.
"I thought we did a nice job in warm-ups," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said of staying focused amid the week's events. "I think our players were excited to acknowledge that this has been a tough week for the people of Boston, and once the puck dropped, we moved on from there."
As did the Bruins.
Jagr's goal just 3:03 into the game, his 16th of the season, was all Boston needed to notch its first win since April 10 against New Jersey. With the puck loose inside the right circle, Jagr scooped it up, swiveled and skated in the direction of goaltender Jacob Markstrom before lifting a wrister over the goalie's glove.
It was the future Hall of Famer's first goal for Boston since finding the back of the net in his Bruins debut on April 4 after being acquired from Dallas. He also has six assists in his nine games with the team.
"We got the first goal and I felt like we played pretty good hockey the past two to three games but just always came up short. A lot of scoring chances but we couldn't score goals," Jagr said. "But today was kind of different. We took care of business on the defensive side and scored some goals."
Rask later preserved the lead with his left leg, making an outstanding kick save on a short shot by Drew Shore, who received a centering pass in front of the crease and shifted the puck to his right before being denied on the doorstep.
One day after Julien publicly criticized Rask for allowing three goals in the loss to the Penguins, the goaltender answered the call.
"I thought it was important for me to put him back in and say, 'Here's an opportunity to go out and battle back. The quicker the better,'" Julien said. "I texted him right after the game last night and said, 'You're back in there tomorrow.' I was glad to see that he played extremely well and it shows you a lot about his character."
After peppering Markstrom with a flurry of shots early in the second period, Boston eventually made it 2-0 on Hamilton's fifth goal of the season. The youngest player on the Bruins' roster at 19 years old, Hamilton took a pass from Shawn Thornton at the blue line and rifled a slapper that sailed over the right shoulder of Markstrom at 13:33 of the period.
Markstrom turned away 36 of 38 shots on the afternoon.
NOTES: There was an increased police presence outside TD Garden before the game. Every person who entered the stadium was scanned with a metal detector, a process implemented throughout the week. ... Singer Rene Rancourt again delivered a rousing rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, pausing throughout to allow fans to sing. ... The Bruins, winless in their previous four games, haven't gone without a victory in four straight home games since going 0-7-3 from Jan. 7 to March 2, 2010. ... Panthers players sported "Boston Police" hats during their pregame warm-ups. ... Boston forward Nathan Horton (upper body) and defenseman Adam McQuaid (lower body) missed the game. Horton appeared to have injured a wrist during a fight with Pittsburgh's Jarome Iginla on Saturday. McQuaid, meanwhile, was the victim of a low and questionable hit from Penguins forward Matt Cooke during the second period on Saturday. ... Boston center Carl Soderberg, recently signed to a three-year contract out of Sweden, recorded his first NHL point in his second game when he assisted on Jagr's first-period goal. ... The Panthers entered the game with a 15-15-3-4 record in Boston, one of just two teams (Minnesota the other) to not own a losing record in Beantown. ... Markstrom had faced the Bruins just once in his two seasons, a 4-1 loss on Feb. 24.