On Oct. 5, the Bruins began the 2005-06 season against their longtime nemeses -- the Montreal Canadiens.
The new Garden was sold out, 17,565 fans strong. The air was electric, the first post-lockout contest full of promise.
No one could predict that night's one-goal loss would be the first of 30, no one knew the Bruins' captain -- Joe Thornton -- would be traded before December. No one knew a combination of injuries, underachievement, and poor planning on the part of the front office would result in a season with the Bruins' fewest victories since 1999-2000. No one knew that closing night at home would be so similar to opening night.
Last night, though, it was again the Canadiens in town and again it was a sellout crowd in attendance, as part of Fan Appreciation Night. But although the result was the same as it has been on so many occasions -- a 4-3 loss -- the atmosphere was spirited and occasionally ornery. Chants of ''U-S-A, U-S-A" only added to the, at times palpable, vitriol.
What's that Mark Antony said about praising Caesar versus burying him?
Before the season started, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs predicted his team would be a Stanley Cup contender. Instead, while Thornton and his new team -- the San Jose Sharks -- wrap up their schedule and prepare for the postseason, the Bruins will close their campaign in Atlanta tomorrow afternoon and will say goodbye to each other in a locker cleanout early Monday morning.
A good many of them will never be back here, some may call it quits.
When the club reconvenes in September, it will have a new general manager and likely will be built around kids, one in particular -- a center who will be just 21 years old. Patrice Bergeron, who keeps getting better despite the frustrations the Bruins have endured, reached a milestone last night with a second-period goal. The tally gave him 30 for the season, making him the youngest player in team history to reach that plateau. Bergeron, at 20 years 262 days, eclipsed the mark set by Barry Pederson, who was 20 years 335 days old when he reached 30 goals in 1982.
Coach Mike Sullivan said he felt the Garden atmosphere was playoff-like and he understood how the fans' feelings rise and fall with the success, or lack thereof, of the team.
''We're so appreciative of the fans that we have, they're loyal fans, it can be difficult sometimes because they love the Bruins the way that they do," he said. ''For me, that's a great thing. They're emotional fans but they're emotional because they care so much."
The finale didn't start well for the home crowd as the dreaded Habs scored on the first shot of the first shift. Just 20 seconds into the action, Alexei Kovalev fired a wrister from the inside edge of the right circle that eluded goalie Tim Thomas.
At 10:04, Montreal doubled its lead with a power-play goal as Jan Bulis redirected a point shot past Thomas. Dan LaCouture attempted to wake up the Bruins when he and Canadiens defenseman Todd Simpson dropped the gloves only nine seconds after the second goal, and it worked, if only for a while.
Bergeron got his 30th at 1:07 of the second with a one-timer from the slot after taking a pass from another up-and-coming young player -- Brad Boyes -- and beating netminder David Aebischer.
''It's flattering with all the great players who have been in Boston," said Bergeron of his feat. ''I'm just trying to appreciate what I have right now and thank people who gave me a chance to be here and try to get better every day."
The Canadiens again made it a two-goal game at 6:52 when Tomas Plekanec dished a pass to Richard Zednik, who scored from the left circle. Where is Kyle McLaren when you need him? Playing for the Sharks, too.
Montreal earned its largest lead at 6:36 of the third on Kovalev's second score. He took a backhand pass from Bulis, skated up the right side from the red line in, and beat Thomas with a wrister from the right circle to the blocker side.
Just 22 seconds later, though, Bruins rookie Yan Stastny potted his first career NHL goal when he took a feed from Glen Murray and beat Aebischer from the slot. Bergeron made it a one-goal game again with 3:49 remaining. He skated in alone on Aebischer and slowed to the point where he appeared to be barely moving. By doing so, he froze Aebischer and then banged in a shot inside the right post to make it 4-3.
But that was as close as the Bruins got. After four straight games that went to overtime, three of them losses, this was decided in regulation. The end of the home season was here and everyone could feel it.
''It was emotional for me because I'm appreciative of how hard these guys work," Sullivan said. ''It's a pleasure to coach these guys."
Whether he continues to do so will soon be decided.