Boston Bruins center Chris Kelly (23), bottom, is greeted by fans as he steps off the ice and under a placard with the phrase \"Boston Strong\" after warming up before an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers at the TD Garden in Boston, Sunday, April 21, 2013. The phrase Boston Strong refers to the city's response and recovery following the Monday, April 15, 2013, bomb attacks near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
BOSTON - The Boston Bruins saluted rather than celebrated.
Ending a four-game winless streak and reaching a tie for first place in the Northeast Division with a 3-0 victory against the Florida Panthers on Sunday was secondary to the Bruins, considering all that's happened in Boston recently.
Each member of the team remained on the ice for a postgame ceremony to hand over their jerseys to a group of people who jumped in to assist the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing or members of law enforcement who participated in the manhunt that led to the capture of one of the suspects Friday night.
Thousands of fans remained for the ceremony, cheering as 26 jerseys were handed out to the heroes of a tragic week that could have been so much worse.
"There was still some electricity in the air when you look at the end of the game," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "Too much has happened in this past week to suddenly turn the corner and say we've forgotten. We haven't and we never will."
The "Shirt Off Our Backs" ceremony is actually an annual promotion for fans. But the Bruins said season-ticket holders asked instead for first responders to be the recipients.
"It's pretty overwhelming to see all the fans and all the players taking the time to say thanks," said Massachusetts State Police Trooper Mark Spencer, who was holding on to the sweaty jersey Jaromir Jagr had just handed him. "We couldn't even walk through upstairs during the venue without people stopping us and thanking us."
Spencer piloted the helicopter equipped with a thermal imaging device that confirmed the 19-year-old bombing suspect was hiding in a parked boat in neighbouring Watertown.
Trooper Eric Fairchild, who was handling communications on the helicopter crew, received Rich Peverley's jersey. Both, dressed in their black flight suits and hats, modestly credited others with having more important roles in the rescue and apprehension.
"We were a small cog in a big wheel with a lot of people working together and it came to a successful resolution," Fairchild said. "The citizens of Massachusetts are amazing and we feel very honoured today. Boston fans, Massachusetts residents and United States citizens at this time have been amazing."
Jagr, whose goal 3:03 into the game gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead, said the players were grateful for the chance to meet and thank the honorees personally.
"It's part of our job to somehow help people—somehow make them happy," Jagr said. "It's a small help, but at least it's a help we can do. Hopefully they appreciate it and they are happy."
The Bruins were playing the second of back-to-back afternoon games after hosting the Penguins in a 3-2 loss Saturday. The Pittsburgh game was originally scheduled for Friday night, but postponed because of the lockdown and manhunt for one of the suspected bombers.
Tuukka Rask stopped 28 shots for his fourth shutout of the season and the Bruins pulled into a tie with idle Montreal for first place in Northeast Division with 59 points. The Bruins have four games to play, one more than the Canadiens as the longtime rivals try to lock up the division in the final week of the regular season.
The visiting Panthers honoured local law enforcement by wearing Boston Police hats during their pregame skate. Bruins fans once again took over the singing of the national anthem, a practice that started last week in the first game since the deadly explosions at the marathon finish line.
Rookie Dougie Hamilton added his fifth goal of the season on a slap shot from the blue line in the second period, giving the Bruins goals from their oldest and youngest player. Jagr, who has eight points in nine games for Boston, is 41; Hamilton is 19.
Brad Marchand picked up his team-high 18th goal when he backhanded the puck into an empty net with 1:22 remaining.
Florida has lost six in a row and seven of eight, although the Panthers did improve slightly on defence in this latest loss. The Panthers had been outscored 17-5 during the first three games of a four-game road trip, which ended Sunday.
"There was enough try to give us an opportunity to be very competitive in this game," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "At the end of it, you have to find a way with what we have to try to create some kind of offence."
Jacob Markstrom stopped 36 shots for Florida, one day after allowing six straight goals in a 6-2 loss at New Jersey.
NOTES: Bruins D Adam McQuaid (lower body) and F Nathan Horton (upper body) were out of the lineup. ... Boston C Carl Soderberg, who made his NHL debut on Saturday, assisted on Jagr's goal for his first NHL point. ... The Panthers' last won on April 7, beating Ottawa 2-1. ... Florida has not scored more than three goals in any game this month.