For the first time since the Boston Marathon attack, a sporting event brought tens of thousands of people together in the city. And this Boston Bruins game was about more than hockey.

What fans wanted Wednesday night at TD Garden was a chance to celebrate, a moment to forget the tragedy gripping Boston, and for the city and its hockey heroes to make them feel safe again.

That celebration started early. Two lines into the Star Spangled Banner, revered Bruins anthem singer Rene Rancourt trailed off and let the capacity crowd of around 17,000 take over. Rancourt has never done that before, two longtime stadium employees told CBC News.

'Believe in Boston'

In the crowd "Coach" Dave Beauchamp saluted like he always does.

In the front row, Nick Andries and his friends held up a sign reading: "Believe in Boston."

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The crowd chanted 'U.S.A., U.S.A.' at several points of the game and many waved the Stars and Stripes. (John Rieti/CBC)

And runner Tom Cahill, who finished the marathon and was nearby getting a drink of water when the bombs went off, stood proudly in his blue and yellow marathon jacket.

"Yeah, I’m sending a message by being here," said Cahill, who brought his daughter to the game.

Nobody would blame a Bruins fan for staying home tonight. Whoever is responsible for the bombing remains at large, and sirens continue to blare throughout Boston.

Outside the stadium, some fans snapped pictures next to the statue of Bobby Orr’s iconic flying goal celebration, but most lined up and filed quickly into TD Garden.

Tight security

Heavily armed soldiers, local police and U.S. Homeland Security officers patrolled the perimeter. Inside, stadium security checked bags for more than just concealed alcohol. 

It’s unclear how long the heavy police presence will remain in Boston, but the public remains apprehensive in the bombing aftermath.

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A Boston fan shows her allegiance to the city's sports teams and the marathon. (John Rieti/CBC)

"People are scared … people lost their legs," said Patrolman Freddy Lane, who worriedly looked around at the stadium’s empty seats ahead of the game. By the time the puck dropped, the seats were full.

"I think there are nervous people here," Chris Cahill (no relation to Tom) said.

"But I feel honoured to be here."

"We have to be here, or they win," Beauchamp said, echoing a common line heard across Boston during the past few days.

Sports therapy

Before the game, scalpers were selling tickets for $150 each, a similar price to what local hockey fans will pay to see the Bruins battle a fierce rival like the Montreal Canadiens.

Gary Lafond brought his young stepson Cole Fagan to the game. As the Bruins took to the ice to warm up Fagan’s face lit up.

"Both happy and sad," Fagan said when asked how he felt about the game.

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A Boston police officer keeps watch over the crowd at TD Garden as the Bruins warm up. (John Rieti/CBC)

At the same sporting event, fans remember the marathon bombing at one moment (the pre-game ceremony, a brief intermission) and then push it from their minds when the game starts. 

When Boston snaps in a goal 5:45 minutes into the contest, the hometown crowd erupts. Their unhindered smiles and wild high fives seem like the first bit of fun the city has had since the marathon was attacked.

The Bruins lost in the shootout, but sports-loving Boston will get more chances for stadium therapy soon.

The Boston Red Sox are set to return to storied Fenway Park on Friday, and will likely find their own way to pay tribute to those affected by the marathon bombing. Basketball’s Celtics will play at least a few playoff games in the coming weeks.

And next April, of course, race organizers say the 2014 Boston Marathon will once again take to the city’s streets.