Bruins fans returned to TD Garden last night for the first time in more than a year: 383 days, to be exact.
But things were different.
Face masks were required, fans couldn't gather in the concourse, and only 12% capacity was allowed. That's only about 2,220 fans, but despite the much smaller crowd, the excitement was palpable.
Outside North Station, there was a sea of fans dressed in jerseys and other team gear. They expressed different degrees of relief, excitement and joy.
"It feels awesome, you know?" gushed Spencer Holden, of Dudley. "Our Patriots season tickets were canceled because of COVID ... it feels awesome to be back in the stands. It feels awesome."
Joe Parziali, of Kingston, didn't let the strict COVID protocols dampen his enthusiasm.
"It feels awesome," Parziali said. "You get to be with all the fans and it feels like a normal life — except wearing masks — but it feels great."
The real question though, was how the much smaller crowd would stack up against the full Garden capacity of nearly 18,000 people.
Ryan Bailey from Louden, New Hampshire said he thought they would be able to match the enthusiasm.
"I'm pretty loud. I'm not 17,865 loud, but I can make some noise ... I thought it was gonna be a ghost town [around the Garden] this time," Bailey said. "There's significantly more people outside and about than I thought there were going to be."
Inside the arena, though, it did feel quieter than a pre-pandemic game night.
The crowd was seated in small pods of two to four people, with what felt like miles separating them. A few sections were closed entirely. If fans wanted a beer, they ordered it on their phones and picked it up.
The Bruins led 2-0 at the end of the first period with the small but mighty crowd behind them. Unfortunately, the game didn't end well. The B's lost 4-3 in overtime. They haven't yet beat the Islanders this season.
Defenseman Steven Kampfer scored his first goal of the season late in the first period. After the game, he said the fans were always in it, even when the Bruins trailed.
"We heard them from the time we stepped on in the beginning of the game to the end, and it's what Boston fans are great for. They're loud, they're passionate and we definitely fed off their energy tonight," Kampfer said. "We will going forward, and it's just unfortunate we couldn't get a win for their first game back in the building."
Head coach Bruce Cassidy agreed.
"It's nice to hear them again. Unfortunately, we couldn't send them home in a better mood. There were some good pockets of hockey for them, and some other pockets they're probably disappointed and frustrated. We are as well. Hopefully, Saturday we'll give them more to cheer about."
That's the Bruins' next game — March 27 against the Sabres. It will be the second game of a seven-game homestand, so fans will have plenty of chances to see a win soon, in person.
This segment aired on March 26, 2021.