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Unforgettable Game 1 highlighted by raucous Bruins crowd originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON — TD Garden was absolutely rocking Saturday night in a display of much-needed normalcy for sports fans after a long, difficult year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virus remains a part of our lives and likely will be for a while longer, but Game 1 of the second-round Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Bruins and New York Islanders helped 17,400 people — the largest crowd in the NHL this season — experience the kind of excitement that May hockey typically brings this region.

The fans went home happy, too, as the Bruins won 5-2 to take a 1-0 series lead.

Saturday night was the first Bruins home game with close to full capacity since March of 2020, and it was the first home playoff game for the B’s with that amount of fans since Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

“The energy and the atmosphere was everything you expected and more,” Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron said. “To say we missed (the fans) is an understatement. I think you appreciate it even more when the fans are taken away from the game for quite some time and you have to play without them. It’s still competitive but it’s not the same. It’s not the same energy or atmosphere. It was a special night. Good to have (the fans) and good to have the win.”

Game 1 observations: Islanders no match for dominant B’s top line

The energy was palpable before puck drop, with fan volume during the pre-game hype video, fan banner captain ceremony, Todd Angilly’s national anthem and player intros reaching levels often heard during Stanley Cup Final games. There was even a brief “Yankees suck” chant in the third period. That’s when you know Boston fans are back.

For the players, the atmosphere provided another level of adrenaline and motivation that they hadn’t previously felt this season. In fact, the experience was so intense that it made some of the players feel like rookies again.

“That was a lot of fun. Outstanding to have fans back,” Bruins forward David Pastrnak said. “You could feel the energy even this morning. We were all excited. In the warmup it felt like 22 players playing their first NHL game with everybody looking around at so many people.”

Pastrnak added: “It’s a different sport with (fans) in the building. It definitely warms your heart and reminds you why you play this sport. It was awesome to have (fans) back.”

One of the coolest moments of the night, at least from a scenery perspective, came after Pastrnak’s third goal to complete his hat trick.

Fans immediately began tossing their hats on to the ice as the Garden audio system started blaring feel-good songs. It was a much-needed couple minutes of happiness for a community that’s persevered through a tough 12-15 months.

“I was trying to enjoy the moment. Looking around at the crowd,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said when asked about the few minutes after Pastrnak’s hat trick. “It’s been a long time since we had a full house here at the Garden, and they were behind us from warmup and on.

“We want to play well for each other but also for the fans who continue to support us, tonight especially. I think it was just a good moment to look around and see a lot of joy. … It was just a nice moment to look around, enjoy it. Playoff hockey — that’s what it’s all about.”

TD Garden isn’t the only arena in this series that will get a boost in capacity for Round 2.

Nassau Coliseum in New York will have up to 12,000 people for Games 3, 4 and 6 of the series. This is the final season the Islanders will be playing at Nassau Coliseum, which has given an already passionate fan base even more reason to bring a tremendous amount of energy to this series.

Home ice advantage hasn’t played much of a factor for teams this season as arenas around the league have had zero or limited amounts of fans throughout the year. The scenario is thankfully changing, and that’s going to make the playoffs from here to the end of the Stanley Cup Final so much more exciting. 

Saturday night in Boston was proof of that.