BOSTON -- They have come to wave flags or meet the players or just appear on the video screen, invariably to a standing ovation, during the Boston Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup finals.
Many are in wheelchairs, some are in uniform, and others have been honored on behalf of those who couldn’t make it at all.
As the Bruins attempt to win their second NHL title in three years, they have shared the spotlight with the victims and first responders from the Boston Marathon bombings, using them as "Fan Banner Captains" and first-puck honorees and otherwise attempting to comfort the stricken city.
Now, as they get closer to a championship, the Bruins are hoping that a Stanley Cup victory can contribute to the healing that has already brought the city a long way back after the attacks on its signature sporting event.
"I think we can help, in probably a large way," Bruins coach Claude Julien said this week after the Stanley Cup finals returned to Boston for Games 3 and 4. "Everybody is looking right now for something to cheer about, smile about.
"I guess it doesn’t fix the things or the people that have been lost. That will never be fixed. At the same time you have to try to heal."
Two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, killing three people and injuring hundreds more.
Since then, an organization that has long had a close relationship with the military and first-responders has brought in those affected by the bombings -- doctors, police and EMTs, along with marathon volunteers, runners and spectators.
"You do what you can, obviously, to lift people’s spirits," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "I remember how the city was and reacted to all of that, and it wasn’t a good feeling at all. At the end of the day, you know, we’re fortunate to be living our dream to be playing a game.
"Having this to try to take people’s minds off things is something that’s cool to be a part of, and that’s what we talked about before. With everything that’s gone on in the city, there’d be nothing more they deserve than a big win by us."
Before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday night, an ad on the scoreboard asked fans to contribute to the One Fund, the charity established to help the bombing victims. Marc Fucarile, the last of 31 bombing victims treated at Massachusetts General Hospital to be released, was invited onto the ice to wave a banner that said "Boston Strong."
Other victims honored include Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs in the attacks; the picture of him being helped by a man in a cowboy hat has become one of the lasting images of the day. The team honored him before a first-round game against Toronto, bringing him out in a wheelchair and a Bruins jersey.
The parents of Krystle Campbell, who was killed in the bombing, were recognized during the Eastern Conference finals against Pittsburgh. Richard Donohue, a transit police officer shot during the manhunt for the suspects, got released from his rehabilitation hospital so he could attend a game against the Penguins.