BOSTON -- No one had to tell the Buffalo Sabres how important Wednesday night's game, the first athletic event in the city since Monday's Boston Marathon bomb blasts, was to the frenzied fans and the Bruins.
But the Sabres, on the brink of elimination from the playoff race, swooped in late and stole a very important win.
"We understood what it meant to Boston and we'd like to feel ... we've got a lot of Americans and I think beyond that you're really a citizen of the world and this is an attack on a free country," Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller said after making 41 saves and then three more in the shootout for the win after Cody Hodgson forced overtime with a 6-on-4 power-play goal and the Sabres pulled it out.
"It was emotional for us, too. It's a scary situation and we're happy to see from all this terrible-ness that Boston has pride, Boston cares and the people are coming together. It's great," Miller added.
After Drew Stafford beat Anton Khudobin with the only goal of the shootout, both teams gathered at center ice and gave a stick salute to a crowd that had been frenzied since pre-game.
The Sabres had been asked to do it and Miller said, "Obviously we were more than open to something like that. It's a game more about coming together and giving the people here something a little more normal to do, get back to rebuilding the families that were affected and just a step forward toward some normalcy. Proud to be a part of it and we just wanted to give a simple salute."
By capping an emotional night with the emotional win, the Sabres moved to within two points of the final playoff spot. They only have four games left and the eighth-place Rangers have two games in hand, but Buffalo hosts New York Friday night.
The Bruins officially clinched a playoff spot and also moved into a tie with the losing Canadiens for the Northeast Division lead and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, Boston still owning a game in hand.
With the crowd as loud as it has been since the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup in 2011, chants of "Let's Go Bos-ton," "We Are Bos-ton" and "U-S-A" could be heard as the home team rallied behind the "Boston Strong" motto that has taken hold since Monday. But Miller stopped 17 shots in the third period, four more in OT and three in the shootout as Buffalo won its third straight.
Chris Kelly (No. 3, 100 career) and Daniel Paille (No. 9) set each other up for goals and Khudobin stopped 30 shots in 65 minutes, but he gave up one goal on three attempts in his first career shootout.
"We wanted to go out there and win that hockey game," said Kelly. "I'm disappointed that we didn't. We wanted to give the city something to be happy about. We went out and battled hard, I'm not taking that away from the guys, but we really wanted to get the two points and hopefully put a smile on someone's face. So, pretty upset that we didn't."
Tomas Vanek, who had a hat trick and two assists the other time the Sabres were in town, tied the game in the first period with his 17th goal of the year, but Kelly scored with 5:12 left in the second period to break the tie. Vanek then set up Hodgson's 14th goal of the year to tie it, sending Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference from hero to goat.
Minutes after making a sliding stop behind Khudobin to rob Stafford, Ference accidentally flipped the puck out of play and took a delay of game penalty with 48.8 seconds left.
The Bruins, who killed three penalties, one a double minor to Milan Lucic, in the first half of the third period, were bolstered by the return of both Patrice Bergeron (six games out, six shots and 13-4 on faceoffs in his return) and Brad Marchand (two games out) from concussions, Bergeron's the fourth of his career. But it wasn't enough.
"It's always tough to lose the games, but we need to learn from that," said Khudobin, 9-3-1 this season. "We tried to play for our fans. We tried to play for the people of the city of Boston and for the whole people who support and everything.
"We didn't get the job done, but we're moving forward. We have to learn from this."
NOTES: Both teams wore "Boston Strong" decals on their jerseys, while Bruins players donated 80 tickets to first responders. The Bruins also announced a $250,000 donation partnership that includes the NHL and the Players Association. ... Anthem singer Rene Rancourt led the raucous crowd in singing the Star Spangled Banner after a video montage of what happened Monday. ... The Bruins' game with Ottawa that was postponed Monday will be made up April 28, a day after the regular season actually ends. ... Marchand is raffling off his TD Garden suite for the first playoff game, the money going to the Richard family after the death of 8-year-old Martin. ... The Bruins host the Penguins Friday night. ... Carl Soderberg, who just arrived from Sweden via a three-year deal, joined the Bruins at their morning skate but did not dress, skating in warm-ups. "He just (got) in last night and he'll get a chance to practice with us tomorrow," said coach Claude Julien. "It's as much for him as it is for us. There's a change in time, and there's the fatigue of travel and everything else. Not knowing much about our system, he's going to have a chance to watch tonight -- and see some things. Hopefully he sees the right things." ... Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta played in his 300th NHL game. ... Defenseman Wade Redden, acquired by the Bruins from the Blues at the trade deadline, made his debut for his new team. ... The Bruins are 8-1-2 in their last 11 home games, but 0-1-1 in their last two.