BUFFALO – The Sabres first talked about a postgame salute beside the Boston Bruins for fans inside the TD Garden prior to Wednesday’s emotional game, the city’s first major sporting event since the Boston Marathon bombings killed three people and injured 180 on Monday.
Sabres assistant captains Steve Ott, Drew Stafford and Thomas Vanek spoke with trainer Tim Macre and equipment manager Rip Simonick about a special tribute for the more than 17,000 spectators in attendance.
Vanek then talked to Bruins captain Zdeno Chara at center ice during warm-ups.
Following the Sabres’ 3-2 shootout win, both teams skated back out on the ice and raised their sticks together as the crowd cheered one final time.
“It was spectacular, I thought,” interim coach Ron Rolston said Thursday following the Sabres’ short practice inside the Northtown Center in Amherst. “Just seeing that picture, you don’t see that a lot in sports. … It was amazing.”
The iconic moment will likely live in Boston and hockey lore forever.
“As we talked about it, we didn’t really think about, I guess, the publicity it’s getting for us,” Vanek said. “It’s just to appreciate the people that came. The atmosphere was unbelievable. Even for us, it’s a few hours away from something.”
Ott called Wednesday’s game “probably the most emotional game I’ve ever been a part of for so many reasons.”
Prior to the contest, the Bruins played a stirring video tribute to the victims, the community and first responders. Some fans hung a No. 8 Bruins jersey with “Richard” on the back, a tribute to 8-year-old Martin Richard, who died in the attacks, on the Bobby Orr statue outside.
“When you watch the memorial and you see that little boy with a Boston Bruins jersey on and just see the support of the community through everything, it was tough,” Ott said. “It was great to see the fans so loud, cheering, ‘We are Boston.’ That community and the Bostonian people, it was really first class.”
Then anthem signer Rene Rancourt stopped singing and turned the microphone over to the crowd, creating another moment for the ages.
“It was unbelievable. It was cool,” Vanek said about the fans singing together. “It was one of those moments you’re happy you’re a part of it. The atmosphere was electric.”
Ott had difficulty getting through the anthem.
“You’re welted up from the ceremony right away,” he said. “I think every single guy has been watching a news network for the last couple days.”
Sabres rookie Brian Flynn, who grew up in nearby Lynnfield and lives in South Boston now, had about 30 or 40 family members and friends watching his first hometown NHL appearance. The winger felt chills looking around during the anthem.
“I don’t think there was one person in the crowd who wasn’t singing,” Flynn said.
Ott said “we were all playing for Boston” on Wednesday.
“To be able to live through that in that game was absolutely surreal,” he said.
On Tuesday, Ott and some teammates visited the bombing site to pay their respects. Seeing Boylston Street, normally a vibrant area, so quiet was “eerie,” Ott said.
“The chaos the whole city was going through,” Ott said, “it was almost like a movie there with the National Guard, police officers, machine guns. … It’s a crazy world we live in some days, and it doesn’t make any sense.
“In a time like that, you try to pull things together. I think that’s the great thing about sports is it can bring a community together in a hurry.”
After the FBI released images of the two bombing suspects later in the day, Ott tweeted, “The FBI is seeking help. Find these two and torture them infront (sic) of the world. No need for court. #Justice #Boston”