Sabres know tonight will be emotional

BOSTON – The Boston Bruins are hosting the first professional sporting event in Boston since Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon. Their opponent knows exactly what to expect tonight at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres suffered their own kind of tragedy on Feb. 12, 2009, when a plane crashed near Buffalo and killed 50 people. The following night, the Sabres hosted the San Jose Sharks and won 6-5 in overtime.

“It was a tough situation. We came in and played the next day and it was almost like a type of game where you knew the crowd would be into it,” explained Sabres assistant captain Drew Stafford at Wednesday’s morning skate. “Emotions were running pretty high then, too, and I obviously expect the same type of thing going out there tonight. It’s really hard to explain, it’s tough to put into words, but we know there’s going to be a lot of emotion involved. We know what to expect. We’re ready for it.”

The Sabres arrived at the Garden just before 10:30 a.m. with a police escort of a dozen motorcycles. The team had been in town on Tuesday and some of the Sabres players walked down Boylston Street to get a sense of what happened. Among that group was former Boston College standout Nathan Gerbe, who played for the Eagles from 2005 to 2008.

“To go down there and see everything, it sends a sick feeling in your stomach, knowing what happened there and the people that were injured, and also for the families who go through the tragedy. It’s terrible and we always send our prayers. Just to see it, it’s something else.”

Normally for any opposing team, playing the Bruins at the Garden is a hostile environment. When the puck drops Wednesday night, however, the atmosphere will be different.

“Obviously there’s going to be a lot of emotion out there tonight,” Stafford said. “You can’t really put into words everything that happened, it’s just surreal. It definitely puts things into perspective that this is just a game and there are more important things. We’re just trying to do our best to keep those emotions in check and at the same time put out a quality product for the fans if they want to come and be entertained.”

From a security standpoint, the Buffalo players said they feel safe and protected coming into a building that seats 17,565, but there will be a sense of anxiety.

“There is a little bit of concern there, but we know with the extra security, the police force, the FBI and everyone that’s been involved in this has done an amazing job of making sure that everyone feels safe,” Stafford said. “They’re telling everyone that there are no worries for anything else and we’re protected. At the same time, we’re trying our best to focus on going out and being ready for a big game. It’s going to be highly emotional. There are no worries at all about any lack of protection. They’re doing a great job making sure everyone feels safe.”

During his college days in this city, Gerbe attended a few marathons and knows the area well. He understands what it’s like to play in Boston on a normal day, never mind on a night when the entire world will be watching the Bruins and their fans.

“I know it’s going to be a great crowd, they’re going to show how proud they are to be from Boston and they’re going to stand up and show their faith, so I’m excited. I know it’s devastating what happened here, everyone around the league feels it and we feel for the families.

“We know their emotion is going to be high, but ours is also high. We feel for the victims. We feel for the families that have been injured. We’re people and this is a game we all love and this is a chance for us to put on a good show and hopefully let the people of Boston know that we’re trying to take their minds off the real world.”