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on hockey

A proud return for Boston fans

The Boston Fire Department took the Garden ice with Rene Rancourt for a poignant national anthem.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Boston Fire Department took the Garden ice with Rene Rancourt for a poignant national anthem.

There is no easy, quick cure for a city’s fractured soul. There are only first steps toward familiarity, the awkward and hesitant inching toward a renewed normalcy, a reclaimed sense of safety, security, home.

With sorrow, terror, and a festering defiance tugging at our town, TD Garden swung open its doors Wednesday night to the Bruins and Sabres, the first massive public gathering in Boston since Monday’s horrific, murderous bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line.

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It was a night to remember, a hope to hold dear, only some 48 hours after the afternoon we all wish could be chased from memory.

“You try and live your life in peace,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien, summing up what so many of us are thinking, “and there’s people that are trying to disrupt that. And the people that are trying to live their life in peace are all going to stick together. And that’s what we have here.’’

The sellout crowd of 17,565 streamed into the building beginning at 6 p.m., the start of an expanded 90-minute window that allowed security guards to process everyone through the wickets. With the Garden PA system blasting U2’s “Beautiful Day,’’ they rushed in, smiling, carrying homemade signs, and unfurling American flags.

A “Believe in Boston” sign greeted Zdeno Chara and the Bruins during warm-ups.

jim davis/globe staff

A “Believe in Boston” sign greeted Zdeno Chara and the Bruins during warm-ups.

The evening fast developed as one part hockey game and equal part city statement of patriotism and pride.

“BOSTON’’ read one sign in the front row of the upper bowl, directly behind the net the Bruins defended in the first and third periods. “Beacon Of Strength That Overcomes Negativity.’’

‘’When I was leaving the house,’’ said Lynnfield resident Bill Glowik, sitting in the upper bowl with 15-year-old son Zachary a half-hour before puck drop, “my wife said to me, ‘Are you sure it’s a good idea going there tonight? Do you really think it’s safe?’ I said, yeah, I’m sure. I think the Garden is the safest place in the world we could be tonight.’’

By 7:33 p.m., the Bruins raced on to the ice. House lights, normally turned full up for their entrance, instead were dialed back nightclub dim as PA announcer Jim Martin said, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your Boston Bruins.’’

The greeting, though boisterous, was not overwhelming, not thunderous, not old Garden shake-the-house-down level. A couple of minutes later, Martin asked the crowd to “pause and reflect’’ and there was a respectful cheer for Monday’s first responders before the house fell pindrop silent.

And from the far west end of the upper bowl, a fan broke the silence by bellowing, “America!’’

Moments later, the large videoboard over center ice began to flip through still photographs of Monday’s unspeakable torment. Many were the pictures that by now have been seared into our memory, stitched with digital catgut into our sorrow. Vivid pixels of pain and bravery, anguish and courage, the silent frame-by-frame documentary of the senseless and the helplessness.

“The whole time, we were fighting back tears,” said Boston winger Brad Marchand, back after missing a week because of a concussion. “It was tough to stay focused on the game.”

While the shots popped on the screen, “Home,’’ by recording artist Phillip Phillips, piped through the PA.

“Don’t pay no mind to the demons . . . they fill you with fear.’’

The pictures stopped. The fear cut short.

Hope followed.

“We Are Boston,’’ read the words on the big electronic board. “We Are Strong.’’

Moments later, a sense of home truly came to the big building on Causeway Street, with longtime anthem singer Rene Rancourt stepping out to his well-worn turf just beyond the Zamboni entrance. With his misty eyes glistening and the Boston Fire Department color guard at his side, Rancourt began his a cappella version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

But by the words, “What so proudly we hailed,’’ Rancourt turned silent, the Causeway Crooner instead adopting maestro duties, out there now only to lead the proud, strong voices in the stands. The Garden choral singers hit their crescendo on the words, “rockets red glare.’’ And at the end of it all, there was Rancourt, pointing into the stands and pumping a fist, just the way he used to be. Before.

“I had to be in the building tonight,’’ said Waltham’s Greg Penta, a longtime season ticket-holder. “I mean, what choice do you have? It’s a Boston statement, you know, ‘Here we are, look at us, everyone wants to be here and no matter what, we’re not just going away.’ ’’

Earlier in the day, Bruins winger Daniel Paille said much the same, hours before he scored the night’s first goal in the opening period. The Canadian-born Paille, fluent in French and English, sounded as defiant and proud as any Bostonian, native son or adopted Black-and-Gold stick carrier.

“I’ve been watching the news all about it . . . people are still going to go [to games], and people are still going to be excited,’’ said Paille, who turned 29 the same day as the bombings. “It’s unfortunate that such an event like the marathon, that someone attacked it. But reading and seeing all the news, people are still excited for next year, and I support that completely. It’s unfortunate that someone had to do that, but I think it brings people closer together at times like this.’’

Paille’s goal delivered the 1-0 lead only 5:45 into the first. In the second period, his assist set up linemate Chris Kelly for the 2-1 lead at 14:48. The lead came only 19 seconds after the crowd, again at Martin’s cue, stood to salute a large group of first responders who attended the game as guests of the Bruins. Kelly the goal. First assist, Paille. Second assist, karma.

In the end, the Sabres squeezed out a 3-2 win in a shootout. Chants of “USA” rang out at night’s end, with full squads filling the ice to give the crowd a poignant stick salute.

“It’s a night I’ll never . . . ” said alternate captain Patrice Bergeron, choosing not to tack the word “forget” to his thought. “Well, I hope I don’t have to feel this way ever again because [of the] tragedy.”

The Bruins staged, played, and finished a hockey game on Causeway Street. It has been that way since the old Garden opened its doors on Nov. 20, 1928. It has been that way through a World War, Korea, Vietnam, natural catastrophes, flu epidemics, the polio era, one Great Depression, one Great Recession, the Cocoanut Grove fire, the Boston Strangler, and more.

And now . . . through terror dropped at our front door.

We are Boston. And Wednesday night showed we will be strong again.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.
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