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Honoring fallen firefighters all too familiar scene for Bruins, Boston

We've recently seen how life goes in with stories of the Boston Marathon bombing victims falling in love, having children, and learning how to function again. Even those who lost loved ones are finding happiness.

Unfortunately, death goes on, as well.

As does tragedy. Those who were injured and killed on Patriots Day at the Marathon finish line in 2013 were not the last to suffer harm at the hands of terror and mayhem. MIT Badge No. 179 Sean Collier was not the last police officer to fall in the line of duty. And, sadly, Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr., 43, of West Roxbury and Michael R. Kennedy, 33, of Hyde Park of Engine 33, Ladder 15 on Boylston Street, will not be the last two firefighters to perish on the job.

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Thursday night, the Bruins and Blackhawks staged the first rematch of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals in Boston. The Bruins dominated this affair after a choppy start and shut out the NHL champions 3-0. Boston scored twice in a 13-second span that was highlighted when Chicago's Corey Crawford attempted to negate Patrice Bergeron's second goal by tipping over the net. After further review, the shot was ruled a goal and Bergeron was ruled friggin' phenomenal. That's more impressive than two goals in 17 seconds unless those 17 seconds fall in the final two minutes of Game 6.

Tuukka Rask pocketed his NHL-best seventh shutout and made 28 saves in what was probably his best game of the year thus far. It's likely the Bruins' last regular-season game of note this season. Boston has 106 points and a nine-point lead atop the Eastern Conference.

All of that is of importance in the sports world. It was almost with apology that the Bruins played a hockey game Thursday night -- even if the game carried all the NHL throw-weight of a title rematch on the same ice from which Chicago exited with the Stanley Cup last June.

Bostonians, whether by geography, lineage, passion, or upbringing, have become experts in navigating the gray area between the real and sports worlds these past 11 months. Most adults can stride the line between David Ortiz christening Boston "our f--king city" and the real-life consequences wrought by two backpack bombs or a nine-alarm fire. Jonny Gomes putting the World Series Cup on the Marathon finish line was emotional and inspirational. But it carries scant impact when compared to this.

#BostonStrong on a Tweet about the Richard family vs. "Boston Strong!" on a knockoff mug from China.

Sept. 11 and the two subsequent wars that followed brought a renewed public emphasis on first responders and members of the military. Nowhere has their praise been more pronounced than before and during sporting events. If it's done right, sports teams can offer a legitimate and credible communal setting for thousands to honor fallen public servants, or gather after a mass tragedy or natural disaster.

Boston's major-league teams have become all too familiar with this role.

Two days after the Boston Marathon bombings, it was a Bruins game that provided the city's first major civic band-aid. Thursday night, the scenario was eerily similar as another sellout crowd filled TD Garden slightly more than 24 hours after that hellacious nine-alarm inferno destroyed so much more than the building at 298 Beacon St. The Celtics played at home Wednesday night, and offered a moment of silence in honor the firefighters, but the impact of the calamity had barely begun to register.

It was the Back Bay's own Tom Brady, who so nailed it with his call into WEEI's "Dennis and Callahan" show Thursday morning. Mark Garfinkel's image of Brady watching the blaze posted by the Boston Herald illustrated how insignificant even the most successful multimillionaire athletes can be when contrasted with true life and death.

"I had a first-hand view of all the action. I was blown away by the teamwork they displayed ... I lived in the Back Bay for a long time. It was a scary day. We as athletes think that we're heroes, but when you witness firsthand what I saw yesterday, you realize who the real heroes are," Brady said on the show.

His boss, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and my boss, Red Sox owner John W. Henry, who is in possession of The Boston Globe and the parent company of this blog, paid a visit without any scripted fanfare or hype to the Engine 33, Ladder 15 firehouse on Boylston Street Thursday to offer their condolences and support.

That firehouse is some 2,100 feet west of the Boston Marathon finish line.

No wonder it all felt so familiar.

Kraft told Fox 25 that firefighters "have one of the most under-appreciated jobs."

As expected, the Bruins did everything right on Thursday. The team skated wearing Boston Fire Department hats during their pre-game routine. The Boston Fire Department Honor Guard carried out the colors. There was the moment of silence. And Rene Rancourt, this time, sang the National Anthem as only he can. This was not the night for a crowd sing-along, or for the people to pick up the lyrics after the first 13 words. This one had to be perfect.

The insignia of the Boston Fire Department illuminated both ends of TD Garden.

"... the home of the brave."

Thursday, it was all about Boston's bravest.

On that Wednesday night after Patriots Day, the Bruins lost to the Sabres. Hardly anyone at the Garden that night or watching on TV likely remembers or cares. At their best, the Bruins represent the blue-collar precincts of Boston and its suburbs where so many of us -- at least those of us who aren't descended from Brahmin royalty, didn't marry into the Kennedy family, or start a $155.29 billion social media company [as of the close of trading Thursday] while at Harvard -- call home, or once did.

Once you get past the obvious disparity in their incomes and the life-and-death risks involved on the job, there are many similarities between pro hockey players and all the firefighters whom the Bruins honored by wearing their hats and caps Thursday night. They are both, as a general rule, team-oriented individuals, used to horrible working conditions, tough, highly-skilled, selfless and fearless when it comes to their professions.

Hockey players understand the fundamental differences, too. "The American heroes are wearing camo. That's not me," said T.J. Oshie after his shootout goal beat the Russians and his Wikipedia page labeled him "an American Hero."

"Our job is to put smiles on people's faces," Bruins coach Claude Julien told NESN after Thursday's victory. "We're part of this community and it affects us as well," added Boston's Chris Kelly.

Although Bergeron scored twice while continuing his 2013-14 Worldwide "From Boston to Sochi And Back" Domination Tour, it was the Boston Fire Department that earned No. 1 Star of the Game honors. "These guys are true heroes," Bergeron said in echoing the same feelings expressed by Brady earlier in the day. "The easiest thing we could have done is to wear that hat in recognition for all they've done for us."

And still do. Every day.

The OBF Blog is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Got a news tip, want to let him know directly what you think, have a complaint or compliment about his "aggressively relevant" content or hate people who speak about themselves in the third person, hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or e-mail him at obnoxiousbostonfan@hotmail.com. Thanks always for reading and pass the clicker.