Traditionally, the first star of a hockey game is awarded to the best player on the ice. But the Boston Bruins broke with tradition in their 3-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night as they awarded the game’s first star to the Boston Fire Department.
The honor came one day after a nine-alarm blaze on Beacon St. claimed the lives of Firefighter Michael Kennedy and Lieutenant Ed Walsh. The Bruins made a point of recognizing the Boston Fire Department and the two fallen firemen throughout Thursday night’s game.
In addition to the first-star honors, the Bruins wore BFD hats in the pregame warm-up, held a moment of silence before the national anthem, distributed a limited amount of free tickets to firefighters and donated all proceeds from the 50/50 raffle to a memorial fund established in honor of Walsh and Kennedy.
And — perhaps best of all — the Bruins won the game. Last season, when the Bruins took the ice after the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the subsequent manhunt for the bombing suspects, they were able to lift the spirits of the city by playing but were not able to record a win. After Thursday’s shutout victory, Bruins coach Claude Julien said the team made it a point of emphasis to win for the fire department and a hurting city.
“I think for us it was important,” Julien said. “It’s been a sad day. It was a sad night last night and it’s a sad day today. We were trying to bring something very positive. We know that doesn’t make things any better, but to just try and do the best you can to help heal and again put some excitement into the people that were here tonight and our fans out there, that’s all you can do.”
The Bruins struggled early in the game to create much positivity. Chicago dominated in shots (6-1) and puck possession early, but Patrice Bergeron seemed to breathe life into the Bruins when, 11:50 into the game, he tipped a Matt Bartkowski shot past Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead. The goal extended Bergeron’s goal-scoring streak to a career-best five games.
After a scoreless second period, Boston doubled its lead 5:28 into the third period when Carl Soderberg scored on a rebound. Bergeron made it a 3-0 game 13 seconds later when he scored on an empty net after Crawford misplayed the puck behind the net and could not get back to the crease in time to stop Bergeron’s shot. While Bergeron took the shot, Crawford appeared to push the net forward in frustration to either knock it off its moorings or use the momentum to get back to his crease. But while the initial call from the referee closest to the play was no goal, the officials quickly conferred on the ice and ruled it a good goal. Video review confirmed the net was in place when the puck crossed the goal line.
The Blackhawks were frustrated on the other end of the ice as well. The Bruins defense limited a Chicago offense which ranks second in the NHL in shots per game (33.2) to just 28 shots on Thursday, and Tuukka Rask finished the job by stopping all 28 of those shots to earn his NHL-leading seventh shutout of the season.
By virtue of the win, the Bruins are now one point or a Tampa Bay Lightning loss away from clinching the Atlantic Division title.
But for a Boston team that already clinched a playoff spot, it was clear their thoughts remained on Thursday night with the Boston Fire Department and the Kennedy and Walsh families.
“It was very sad what happened yesterday,” Bergeron said. “We feel like we’re part of the community now as a whole, and it was an important game, we thought, for us to win for all of them. They put their lives at risk and obviously with what happened, our thoughts and prayers are with their families.
“Like I said …,” Bergeron said as he trailed off, glassy eyed, before finding the words to continue. “You never want to hear that. They’re the heroes and we’re just here to … obviously it puts things in perspective, I guess, if I want to put it that way. Tonight was a well-deserved first star.”