BOSTON -- And so it begins.
The Boston Bruins finally opened their Stanley Cup title defense and 2011-2012 season Thursday night at TD Garden. It was an emotional night that began with the banner-raising ceremony and ended with a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
The atmosphere around the city and inside the arena was electric. When the doors opened at 5:30 p.m. fans quickly filed in and found their seats. When the Bruins took the ice for the pregame warmup, the fans gave their team a standing ovation.
When it was time for the ceremony, the 2011 Stanley Cup banner was lowered behind a large curtain from the center ice video board. The anticipation was building. The team emerged from the Zamboni entrance, the curtain fell making the banner visible and captain Zdeno Chara held the Cup.
The 17,565 in attendance went crazy.
Because the Bruins' clinching Cup victory came on the road -- on the home ice of the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena -- the Bruins recreated the Cup passing from player to player Thursday at the Garden.
It went from Chara to the now-retired Mark Recchi, to Patrice Bergeron, to Tim Thomas and all the way down the line. It was a classy move. Owner Jeremy Jacobs spoke. Team president Cam Neely spoke. GM Peter Chiarelli said a quick word. Chara thanked the fans. Members from the 1972 Cup team were on the ice, including Bobby Orr.
Then the banner was carried from center ice to the area below the other five. It was hooked up to cables and history was raised to the rafters.
"That was a special moment," Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas said. "That was another one to add to the memory bank that you'll remember forever. While it was happening I was picturing myself coming back and visiting for a game 30 years from now and looking at that banner and saying, 'I helped raise that banner.' "
The pregame ceremony lasted almost 30 minutes. The celebration is now officially over.
"The bottles of champagne are empty so it's time to go home," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "That's how we feel right now. We've had a great time with it this summer and we've had some great experiences, but right now we would basically like to redo this and we know there's a lot of work and a lot has to come into play before that happens. We need to turn the page."
Even before this day arrived, Julien expressed to his players how it would be a challenge to flip the switch from Stanley Cup champions to becoming just another one of the 30 teams in the league. It's a clean slate and the players know it.
"It was awesome," Bergeron said of the ceremony. "The fans were great and it was fun to cut the cord. It was our last chance to hoist the Cup, and thinking about right now, this year and living in the present, living in the moment."
Now it's all about looking forward.
"It has to be," Bergeron added. "We've faced adversity before and we're used to it. That being said, it was a special night and we wanted to get that win but we didn't do it. We need to learn from it."
Around the Bruins' locker room after the game, each player talked about how much of a letdown it was to lose on such a special night -- which was actually a good sign, because it meant their focus was on the game. They just couldn't capitalize on their chances and lost that early spunk en route to the first loss of the season.
"We're back to reality," Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "We're the hunted one now and we have to find a way to win games. It's going to be extra tough this year with everybody wanting to win against the champions. We just have to be on our game and in the end it'll make us that much stronger."
There was clearly an emotional letdown after the Bruins gained a 1-0 lead on Brad Marchand's power-play goal at 9:42 of the first period. Boston allowed a pair of goals in the final minute of the opening frame as Philadelphia gained a 2-1 lead and would not relinquish it.
The good news is that now the Bruins can concentrate on the task at hand.
There are 81 games remaining, maybe more if everything goes according to plan. Now the Bruins can solely focus on another long and arduous schedule and put 2010-2011 in the books. It's almost a sigh of relief for the Bruins that the party's over and it's time to move on.
"We're basically all looking forward to it," Julien said. "As you know, if you go to a party and you stay until 4, or for two or three days after, you get tired of it, right?"
The fact of the matter is this city and these fans will never get tired of it. They want more and now it's up to the players to deliver.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.