BOSTON - It's just a game, but maybe this Stanley Cup final can heal as well as entertain.
The Boston Bruins know nothing can take away the pain of the Boston Marathon bombings that ravaged their city. Still they know that stringing together wins in the NHL post-season is bringing a smile to their sports-crazy home town.
"I think we help it in probably a large way," Boston coach Claude Julien said Tuesday when asked whether the Bruins' playoff run can in some small way help heal the city. "Everybody's looking right now for something to cheer about, to smile about.
"I guess it doesn't fix the things or the people that's been lost. That'll never be fixed. At the same time you've got to try and heal. As much as the city itself has been touched by that, so have we as a team. I've known that for a long time, that's all we talked about in the dressing room. It really hit us hard.
"Right now we got to focus on doing our job and trying to stay focused on that so that in the end you hope that you can make that happen. But right now it's got to be about us before we can even think about that. And if we think about ourselves and the job we need to do, hopefully the rest takes care of itself."
The April 15 bombings killed three people and injured more than 260.
Two Bruins games were rescheduled in the aftermath of the attack. Julien's team ended up finishing the season by playing seven games in 11 days. They won just two of them, wobbling into the playoffs mentally and physically exhausted.
After surviving a first-round charge by the Maple Leafs, the Bruins really have been Boston Strong. Monday night's win over Chicago was the Bruins' seventh straight at home. The Bruins are 8-2 this post-season at TD Garden, outscoring their opponents 28-17.
And Boston carries a 2-1 lead into Game 4 of the best-of-seven series with the Blackhawks on Wednesday night.
Veteran forward Shawn Thornton, a gritty fourth-liner who is a fan favourite, admitted that trying to relate hockey to a real-life horror was hard.
"It's tough to talk about," said the Bruins tough guy. "Just to put that into the same perspective as a hockey game, I think isn't right either. So it's a tough question to answer. I'm not going to lie."
But he hopes the Bruins can make a difference,
"It's tough to speak for that, but I'm hoping, yeah," he said. "We come to the rink every day, and we love this city. If it helps, then amazing."
Thornton called Boston "a small, big city."
"You get to know a lot of people around here when you stick around. There's a few of us that live here year-round now. There are good people here. Once you get to know people, they'll do anything for you. So that helps. Sam Adams too, Harpoon. Good beers."
Memories of the attack are still raw. A makeshift memorial is still on display at Copley Square and Boston Strong T-shirts are omnipresent.
The Bruins have quietly honoured many whose lives were affected by the bombings.
During the playoffs, their so-called "Fan Banner Captains" have had a Boston Strong theme.
For Game 3, the captains were Rob Rogers, Jenn Rogers, and Jennifer Lemmerman, the siblings of Sean Collier, an MIT Police Officer who was killed in a firefight with the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
Bomb technicians, victims and their families, and first responders have similarly been honoured.
After the attacks, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs pledged US$100,000 to The One Fund Boston, the charity established to help families affected by the bombing. The TD Garden, the NHL and the players association pledged $50,000 each.