BOSTON – As gold rally towels and hats of all sizes and colors sailed from the stands to the ice to traditionally celebrate David Pastrnak’s hat trick, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy took a second to make a pause.
In the first game TD Garden was allowed to open at full capacity, Pastrnak’s third goal gave Boston a secure two-goal lead. All around him people were dancing, smiling and partying. For New England fans, Saturday essentially marked the end of the impact of COVID-19 on sports. There are still precautions to be taken, but the games themselves have returned to normal. Cassidy’s team punctuated this with a memorable victory.
“I was trying to make the most of the moment by looking around the crowd. It’s been a while since we’ve had a full house here in the Garden, ”Cassidy said. “The fans were behind us since the warm-up. Obviously we want to play well for each other, but also for the fans who have continued to support us. It was a good time to look around and see a lot of joy.
In the unprecedented last 15 months, the joy was largely hanging. It has been restricted, watered down or, in many cases, eliminated to keep people safe and limit the scope of the tragedy. But with protocols lifted in Massachusetts on Saturday, the chance to come together and break free at a sporting event was a catharsis shared by players and fans alike.
At TD Garden Saturday, the joy was abundant.
Unlike the 17,400 ticket holders, Cassidy didn’t have the luxury of absorbing everything in real time. There were plenty of moments to savor on Saturday that began long before the opening face-off and lasted until the festive rendition of “Dirty Water” after the final horn.
Across town four hours earlier, the Red Sox actually became the first Massachusetts team to fully open their doors. But it was a cold, raw, and sometimes rainy day, giving many would-be fans a reason to wait for their first Fenway trip in 2021. There is still plenty of baseball to come. The 25,089 who bought tickets saw a great game in the best Red Sox atmosphere since 2019.
But at the Garden, the Bruins could have sold twice as many seats and not satisfied everyone. Before the doors even opened, fans lined up at North Station waiting to enter, chanting “Let’s Go Bruins” along with equally eager strangers.
The Bruins showed up with a powerful pre-game ceremony. The sight of AJ Quetta, the Bishop Feehan High School hockey player who suffered a spinal injury earlier this year, drew both a huge roar and emotional tears from the crowd. They applauded as Quetta shook his head with the music while smiling broadly as he served as captain of the game’s fan banner.
Todd Angilly’s always exceptional anthem had an impromptu accompaniment as the crowd joined him in a touching spectacle.
It is often difficult for the home side to play well after this kind of pre-game. The Bruins lost the first game after the Marathon bombing and they lost after Zdeno Chara was presented with a broken jaw in Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Both of these games had moving ceremonies ahead of them, but the game couldn’t match the moment.
It would have been a good night even if Boston had lost. Thousands of people who have all experienced different experiences individually during the pandemic have all taken a big step backwards to normalcy together. It’s an undeniably special experience, no matter what the dashboard says.
But on Saturday, the Bruins’ game only made the day better. They erased an early 1-0 deficit and won in a way that felt like there are still many good nights to come.
Patrice Bergeron was asked if he met his expectations.
“The energy and atmosphere was everything we expected and more,” said Bergeron. “To say we missed (the fans) is an understatement. It was a special evening.
Follow MassLive sports columnist Matt Vautour on Twitter at @ MattVautour424.