BOSTON – In the corner of the Boston Bruins’ locker room, hanging from the hooks in defenseman Andrew Ference’s stall, is a yellow running singlet with the team’s “Spoked B” logo on the front.
It’s the same one Lucas Carr had on when he finished this year’s Boston Marathon minutes before the bombs went off at the finish line, the one Carr was still wearing when he headed back down Boylston Street to help those injured.
“He was right there,” said forward Shawn Thornton, one of the Boston players who has struck up a friendship with the U.S. Army sergeant who was running the marathon for the team’s charity. “You can’t say enough about those guys. He’s got a ton of character.”
As the Bruins prepare for Sunday’s second game of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against New York, they have drawn their inspiration from another group of Rangers: The elite Army regiment that lives by the credo, “Rangers lead the way.” Carr texts encouraging messages, or simply joins them for a beer so they can talk about anything but hockey or war.
“It puts things in perspective for us, and I think gives us a little extra motivation, too,” goalie Tuukka Rask said Saturday.
The bond between the team and the unit began in 2011, when Ference wore an Army Rangers T-shirt during Boston’s Stanley Cup run. The soldiers sent back a picture of them waving a Bruins banner in Afghanistan.
Ference visited the Rangers’ training school at Fort Benning, Ga., and he was given a Rangers jacket that has become a talisman for the team. After each win, the star of the game wears it for his postgame interviews and hangs it in his locker until it is time to pass it along to the next player.
“Seeing the guys wear the jacket, I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been getting emails and Facebook messages left and right,” Carr said. “The guys that are seeing this are in awe, they’re very humbled: ‘Oh, my God, this professional hockey team is using our insignia, out there performing for us. We’re their heroes.’
“Hockey players can have heroes, too. That’s what Andrew’s conveyed for the team.”
Patrice Bergeron was awarded the jacket after scoring the tying and winning goals in the overtime victory over Toronto in Game 7 of the first round Monday night. Zdeno Chara squeezed his 6-foot-9 frame into it after the 3-2 win over the Rangers in Game 1 on Thursday.
Carr called his graduation from Ranger training school the proudest moment in his life, and said wearing the “Ranger” patch, for the first time “makes you feel like you’re invincible.”
“Some guys aren’t as strong as others, but every guy that graduates on Victory Pond that day, they are the proudest human being in the world. And they will run through a brick wall for you,” he said.
“The sacrifice that that MVP (of the game) makes to wear that jacket is what it takes to be the best. It just means a lot to us, and the guys who have sacrificed so much, that they put that on at the end of the game. “
The hockey players cringe at the comparisons between their sport and the combat that the Rangers have seen. “Obviously, what they do is above and beyond it,” Thornton said.
But Carr insists that there are similarities in their missions.
“It’s about the man beside you,” he said, recalling the Bruins’ comeback from a three-goal, third-period deficit to beat Toronto in Game 7. “It is about the man beside you when you’re skating a wing. They showed that in that comeback the other night.
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish for a team.”
Still, it can be odd to be in the Boston locker room and hear players speak with such reverence of the Rangers — especially during a playoff series against their Original Six rivals from New York.
The irony was not lost on Carr.
“I think, in this case, may the best team win,” he said.