That’s how long the TD Garden without a full or nearly full capacity crowd full of Bruins supporters. The last time they hosted a full house on Causeway St., the Tampa Bay Lightning came to town in a potential playoff preview.
Surely, that Bruins-Lightning matchup provided its share of emotions in a late regular-season tilt. And indeed, that Saturday night in early March provided a tune-up for their potential second-round matchup.
Bruins fans watched the team’s 10-1-2 start from their television sets. By the start of spring, during a transitional roster period, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts allowed a select amount of loyal supporters to witness their beloved team at a 12 percent capacity, then at 25 percent before their first-round series against the Washington Capitals.
As that first-round matchup against the Caps progressed, the state announced another ease of restrictions. Saturday marked the first time that sporting venues, bars, restaurants, and everything else in between could operate at full capacity. Because of certain league mandates, the TD Garden couldn’t sell all 17,850 seats for hockey, settling instead on 17,400.
The anticipation of this moment inside the Bruins’ locker room grew with each day following their five-game series win over the Caps. On Saturday, in their second-round series opener with the New York Islanders, the hype met the reality.
The Bruins lived in the moment all night, soaking in the atmosphere while treating their rabid fanbase to a 5-2 victory over a heavy Islanders bunch.
“The energy, the atmosphere was everything you expected and more,” captain Patrice Bergeron said following his two-assist night. “To say that we’ve missed them is an understatement. I think you appreciate it even more when the fans were taken away from the game for quite some, and you have to play without them. It was still competitive, but still not the same. It’s not the same energy and the same atmosphere as I have mentioned. So, it was special. It was a special night. It was good to have them and good to have the win.”
The special night began with Bruins fans flooding the entrances. The boisterous crowd displayed their emotions as soon as they hit their seats for pregame warmups. The decibel levels increased as they witnessed the inspirational A.J. Quetta leading the way as the fan banner captain, Charlie McAvoy, putting the Bruins ahead for good with his third-period go-ahead goal and David Pastrnak capping off his second career postseason hat trick.
The 17,400 dressed in black and gold sang along to ‘Zombie Nation’ after each goal. They helped Todd Angilly in the rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. They also chorused to the classic hit ‘Shout’ and Icona Pop’s ‘I don’t care – I love it.‘
Behind the bench, Bruce Cassidy lived every moment to the fullest. Every one of his players did the same, from the pregame warmups to the hats flying off for Pastrnak and Taylor Hall’s empty-net back-breaking marker.
“I was trying to enjoy the moment looking around the crowd,” Cassidy said. “It’s been a long time since we had a full house here at the Garden. They were behind us from warmup on. Obviously we wanted to play well for the group and for each other, but also for the fans that have continued to support us with the way they came out tonight especially. I think it was just a good moment to look around and see a lot of joy.”
The Bruins encountered a pair of joyless hiccups on Anthony Beauviller’s first period power play marker — off a Brandon Carlo turnover — and Adam Pelech’s second period blast. But they hardly looked out of place after their six-day layover, outshooting the Islanders 40-22 with the potent top line of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak firing 19 of those shots on net.
The first night in front of a loyal fanbase was always going to be something special. Some of the Bruins, like Pastrnak, felt like it was their first time playing in front of a sold-out crowd, period.
And after 15 long months, the Bruins lived up to this special moment on a night no one inside TD Garden — aside from the Islanders — will ever forget.
“It was obviously fun and outstanding to have fans back,” the fashionable Pastrnak said as he donned his top hat and wacky suit in his postgame Zoom call with the media. “You could feel the energy this morning. We were all excited. In the warmup, it felt like 22 players playing the first NHL game…definitely a different game with the fans, and obviously, it was a lot of fun today.”
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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