When the Pittsburgh Penguins traveled to Boston for a game scheduled on Friday night, they knew they were traveling to an emotionally charged city still reeling from bombings on Monday at the Boston Marathon. What they could not have foreseen, however, was a manhunt for the suspect of the bombings Friday that shut down the city and surrounding towns for the day and forced the postponement of Friday night’s hockey game.
But by Saturday, the suspect had been caught and both Boston and the two hockey teams had to pocket the emotions of a difficult Friday and return to normal life. On Saturday afternoon, the Penguins topped the Bruins, 3-2, in the rescheduled game, but it was certainly a challenge for Pittsburgh to find a way to overcome the emotion of the moment and get back to the task at hand: winning hockey games.
At first, the Penguins did not succeed.
“It was a unique circumstance,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik, a Boston resident in the offseason. “No one has been through this. [The emotion] could have gone either way. Obviously, the way [the Bruins] started, it energized them. We didn’t play very well for the first half of the game.”
The Bruins looked to be feeding off an emotional pregame ceremony which featured a montage of images from the marathon bombings and the manhunt Friday, capped off by multiple images of grinning first responders after the successful capture of the suspect Friday night. Once again, a packed TD Garden sang the national anthem loud and proud, and once again, it was difficult to find a dry eye in the house.
“It was moving,” Orpik said of the pregame ceremonies. “I think for everybody whether or not you are from here or not. I think that anyone who is human finds some emotion in that.”
Like the Bruins and the fans, the Penguins could connect to the images in the montage because they lived the lockdown as well. According to Orpik, the Penguins spent much of Friday preparing to play as normal except for the cancellation of their morning skate. Orpik said the team found out around 2:50 p.m. that the game was off. By dinnertime, when Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick announced the shelter-in-place order was lifted, the team was going a bit stir-crazy and decided to head out into the city.
“We walked around a little bit outside and then went to dinner in the North End,” Orpik said. “The North End was kind of jumping last night. We just tried to get out of the hotel. Everyone was getting a little stir-crazy in the hotel.”
But the Penguins, even after a massive manhunt put their team and the city under lockdown for an entire day, were in Boston for business, and it was in the second period of Saturday afternoon’s game that they got back to business.
Five minutes into the second period, Jussi Jokinen put the Penguins on the board when he gathered a loose rebound at the side of the net and slipped it past a sprawled Tuukka Rask. From that point on, the Penguins seemed to claw their way back into the game both emotionally and physically, and even when the Bruins stepped up the offensive attack toward the end of the period, backup netminder Tomas Vokoun held strong despite a flurry of chances for the Bruins from all angles to preserve the tie.
“When we were able to draw even in that game with that goal by Jussi Jokinen, I thought that really turned the tide in the game a little bit and got it more of an even game at that point in time,” said coach Dan Bylsma. “It carried us through the second, and our power play coming out of the third was really big for our team.”
The Penguins were 2-for-2 on the power play in the third period, and those two goals stood as the difference in the game. By virtue of the win, the Penguins clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, but after a brief celebration, the Pittsburgh players wrapped themselves back in the emotion of the moment in Boston.
Penguins players sported Boston Police, Massachusetts State Police and Watertown Police hats in the locker room after the game.
“I think that everyone was proud to wear them, excited to wear them,” Orpik said. “I live here in the summers, and I will probably live here when I am done playing. I had no problem wearing them. But yeah, you see Canadian guys, a lot of different guys wearing them. It’s just a good atmosphere to be around.”
For Pittsburgh, the opponent Saturday afternoon was clearly only an opponent during the game. Although the Penguins certainly did not go easier on the Bruins considering the difficult situation in Boston, they said they were happy to be able to give Boston fans a bit of a break.
“It was nice to be able to play today and have the fans here, and their reactions,” said Jarome Iginla. “As players, you want to give a little bit of a timeout and come and play hard for the fans. It was definitely intense, and a sad day and a week. Once you get playing, you play as hard as you can, both sides.
“It was a fun game.”