BOSTON – After Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres pulled out a comeback win over the Bruins, they had one last gesture to mark the significance of Boston's first pro game since the marathon bombings.
Players from both teams gathered at centre ice and raised their sticks in a salute to the city and fans who had shouted, “We are Boston” and “USA, USA,” during the game.
The Bruins had suggested the gesture to the Sabres before Buffalo's 3-2 shootout win Wednesday night.
“Obviously, we're more than open to something like that,” said Miller, the starting goalie on the U.S. Olympic team in 2010. “It's a game more about coming together and giving people here something a bit more normal today.
“I'm proud to be a part of it and just wanted to give a simple salute”
Drew Stafford scored the only shootout goal after Cody Hodgson tipped in Thomas Vanek's pass on a power play to tie the game with 26.6 seconds left in regulation.
“Late in the game there we just wanted to make sure that we got pucks at the net and weren't trying to be too fancy,” Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston said.
But the Bruins still clinched a playoff berth by gaining one point.
They are tied in points with Montreal atop the Northeast Division, but have one game in hand on the Canadiens. Both teams trail Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh by nine points.
There was a pregame period of silence and a slideshow of scenes from the Boston Marathon in which three people died and more than 170 were wounded when two bombs went off near the finish line on Monday.
Veteran Bruins anthem singer Rene Rancourt sang the first few words then went silent and directed the fans in a full-throated rendition.
“It was extremely emotional,” Boston's Brad Marchand said. “I was fighting back tears.”
There was heightened security at TD Garden where cars entering the garage were searched, and fans were checked with wands and patted down.
Jeff Hilario, 33, of Sommerset, said he attended the game Wednesday night to send a message.
“You can't let this get you down,” he said. “We did drive in instead of taking the T, for obvious reasons, but you got to get back at it. They win if you don't.”
Victoria McDonough, 27, of Watertown, was among the supporters.
“I work in the city, I live pretty much in the city,” she said. “I mean you have to support it. You have to be a part of it, and any way we can show our support, we'll be here for it.”
The Bruins quickly gave their fans something to cheer about when Daniel Paille scored his ninth goal of the season just 5:15 in. Vanek tied it with his Buffalo-leading 17th goal on a power play at 18:20 of the first. Chris Kelly then scored the go-ahead goal, his third tally of the season, at 14:48 of the second.
“We wanted to go out there and win that hockey game. I'm disappointed that we didn't,” Kelly said. “We wanted to give the city something to be happy about.”
Boston moved into second place in the Eastern Conference with 57 points and six games left. The Canadiens, who lost to Pittsburgh earlier Wednesday, have five games remaining.
The Bruins had been scheduled to play at home against the Ottawa Senators on Monday night. But less than five hours before the game was to start, the bombs exploded.
That game was postponed and rescheduled for April 28.
The 10th-place Sabres, who beat Philadelphia and Tampa Bay last weekend, are fighting to get into playoff position. They are two places and two points below the post-season cutoff, but have only four games to go.
“We have a chance to just write our own story,” Miller said. “We have to win our own hockey games and maybe get some help along the way. Tonight we helped ourselves a little bit and we still have games against teams ahead of us (in the standings).”
In the shootout, Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and Marchand missed for Boston. Buffalo's first two shooters, Vanek and Nathan Gerbe, also were stopped before Stafford beat Anton Khudobin.
“You can see the passion that they played with and the passion that the fans had,” Hodgson said. “I thought that we had to rise to the occasion.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien wants the passion to be present for every game.
“It's not about trying to make this city proud of your team tonight, but every night,” he said.
Paille beat Miller after Kelly passed the puck from the left corner. Paille lifted it from about 5 feet into a narrow space between the near post and Miller's right shoulder.
The crowd cheered: “Let's go Boston. We are Boston.”
Vanek tied the game when he tipped Christian Ehrhoff's shot from just in front of the blue line past Khudobin.
Then Kelly and Paille teamed up again. Paille had the puck in the left corner and passed it across the slot. Kelly shot it over the left pad of Miller, who had sprawled to try to stop Paille's pass.
The Celtics' scheduled home game on Tuesday night against the Indiana Pacers was cancelled and won't be rescheduled. The Red Sox play next at home on Friday night against the Kansas City Royals.
NOTES: Bruins scoring leader Marchand, and Bergeron, who is tied for second on the team in points, returned from concussions. Marchand missed two games. Bergeron sat out six. … Vanek had three goals and two assists in Boston on Jan. 31 in a 7-4 win over the Bruins. … Kelly's goal was the 100th of his NHL career. … Players from both teams wore “Boston Strong” decals on their helmets.
Sports Writer Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this report.