BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins paid tribute to those affected by the Boston Marathon bomb blasts, but then handed a game away to the Buffalo Sabres, dropping a 3-2 shootout decision Wednesday night in the first athletic event in the city since Monday's tragedy.
Cody Hodgson tied the game with a power-play goal with 26.6 seconds left and Drew Stafford then scored the only goal of the shootout as the Sabres kept their once-faint playoff hopes alive. Buffalo, winners of three straight, is two points out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
By capping an emotional night with the emotional loss, the Bruins still got a point and moved into a tie with the losing Montreal Canadiens in the race for the Northeast Division and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, Boston still owning a game in hand with less than two weeks left in the lockout-shortened season.
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 and seemingly was on its way to a win. But Ryan Miller stopped 41 shots and all three in the shootout and the visitors pulled it out.
When the game ended, both teams gathered at center ice and gave a stick salute to the crowd.
Chris Kelly (No. 3, 100 career) and Daniel Paile (No. 9) set each other up for goals and Anton Khudobin stopped 30 shots in 65 minutes, but he gave up one goal on three attempts in his first career shootout.
The Bruins are 8-1-2 in their last 11 home games, but 0-1-1 in their last two.
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) and Brad Marchand (two) from concussions, Bergeron's the fourth of his career. But it wasn't enough.
The Bruins were more than ready to do their part in the healing process of their city. "The one thing I sense from our team is we have the ability to maybe help people heal and find some reason to smile again by representing our city properly," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "To me, this is a time when you're proud to be associated with a professional team. When you look at the support this city's had from rivals that are giving us support at this time, it's amazing. We have an opportunity to make our city proud and we're all in for it and hopefully we can do that for our city right now."
The Sabres were well aware of what they could be in for on the emotional night. Some of the Buffalo players walked down to the area Tuesday.
"To go down there and see everything, it sends a sick feeling in your stomach, knowing what happened there and the people that were injured, and also for the families who go through the tragedy," said Nathan Gerbe, a Boston College product. "It's terrible and we always send our prayers. Just to see it, it's something else."
The Bruins took a 1-0 lead when Paille took a pass from Kelly and beat Miller 5:45 into the game. But a Chara penalty led to Vanek tipping in a Christian Ehrhoff shot at 18:20, after Ehrhoff made a nifty play to keep the puck in at the blue line.
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 tribute of Monday's tragedy. ... 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 Sabres host the Rangers and the Bruins the Penguins Friday night. ... Carl Soderberg, who just came over from Sweden via a three-year deal, was with the Bruins at their morning skate but did not dress. "He'll do the warm-up tonight. He just [got] in last night and he'll get a chance to practice with us tomorrow," said Coach 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, while Boston's Jay Pandolfo was a healthy scratch for the fifth straight game and remains stuck on 899 NHL games.