- Matt Kalman, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- He might be a New Yorker born and raised, but Neil Diamond's place in Boston sports lore was written in stone years before the 2010 Winter Classic was staged Friday at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox have used Diamond's song "Sweet Caroline" as an eighth-inning sing-along at home games for the better part of the past decade. The song's presence on the team's playlist has coincided with one of the club's longest stretches of success. Now another Boston team can claim to have benefited from the powers of "Sweet Caroline."
The Fenway crowd, which was in a frenzy for most of the afternoon, hit its highest pitch with eight minutes to go when celebrity Bruins fans Denis Leary and Lenny Clarke joined some local firefighters in leading the crowd in the popular tune. The Bruins promptly turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 overtime victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
"That was awesome, too, with [eight] minutes left. That might be it, what got us going," said center Patrice Bergeron, who set up the winning goal in overtime with a pass toward the net that Marco Sturm tipped past goaltender Michael Leighton. "We were kind of thinking on the bench, this would be nice to get a goal and see how the crowd would react. It was great to get that goal."
When asked, Steve Begin agreed that the Bruins should add "Sweet Caroline" to their iPods.
"That was great of them [the fans] and like I said they create so much energy for us. Even though they were so far away we could feel them and we could feel the energy coming," the rugged winger said. "We felt them, so they gave us the energy at the end, the final 20 minutes and overtime there."
It was a little more difficult for the Bruins fans, who were mixed in with an almost equally loud mass of Flyers fans, to "reach out" to the Bruins with the rink in the middle of the baseball diamond and the 38,112 paying customers filling the regular stands. The distance might've been a positive for the better part of the first 2½ periods, as the die-hards probably wanted to strangle their heroes. After all, the Bruins struggled to muster any semblance of an offensive attack and trailed 1-0 until Mark Recchi's power-play tally with 2:18 remaining in regulation.
"We kind of talked about it. It was unfortunate that it took us 50 minutes to get them to really hear what it was all about. It was pretty special once we scored that goal to hear the place really rock," said winger Shawn Thornton, whose first-period fight was one of the rare instances the Bruins fans had a reason to get rowdy.
The second period was particularly disappointing for the Bruins. They were outshot 12-6 by the Flyers. And when goaltender Tim Thomas decided it was more important to shove Scott Hartnell than follow the puck, the Flyers took the lead on a Danny Syvret goal from the point. The Bruins looked as though they were battling the elements and the quickly deteriorating ice more than the Flyers. But the players didn't want to make any excuses for their somewhat lifeless attack through 40 minutes.
"We were just trying to find a way to get pucks to the net and stay there and get some rebounds," said Bergeron. "I thought we were kind of forcing too many plays and not shooting, and it hurt us through the first two periods."
Boston came out stronger for the third. However, its frustrations trying to score -- which has been a problem all season -- continued to mount. The first signs that the crowd wanted to really will the Bruins to a victory started with about 10 minutes left when the "Let's go Bruins" chant restarted and the "Let's go Flyers" retort could hardly be heard. Then came "Sweet Caroline" and the magic of the Fenway faithful took hold.
"It was unbelievable with everybody singing it. It was like you're at the game, but you're actually playing in it. It was cool," said Johnny Boychuk, an avid Red Sox fan despite his Canadian roots.
The intensified atmosphere and some undisciplined play by Philadelphia gave the Bruins the boost, and then Recchi's tying goal threw gasoline on the fire.
"You could tell our fans were just waiting for something," said Recchi. "When we tied the game, you could just feel the whole stadium, the vibe was there and you could feel it. You could feel our whole emotions on our bench go up another level, and it was a great thing to be a part of it and we are glad to give them something to cheer about."
In overtime, the Flyers had their chances, which Thomas extinguished. Then Bergeron and Sturm connected for the winner and the noise hit a crescendo that none of the players will forget.
"I was trying to scream as loud as I could and I was wondering, at first it didn't really sink in that I couldn't hear myself yawn," said Morris. "But the fans were really loud and so passionate. We wanted to win that game for them. You say that every game, but tonight was a special game."
"Did you see us after the goal? That's what it sounded like. It got us really excited and it was amazing. I can't describe it, there's no word for it, but it was awesome," said Bergeron.
Or maybe he should just say, 'so good, so good.' Something tells me TD Garden, which already borrowed "Dirty Water" for the Bruins' celebration song, will be adopting "Sweet Caroline" as a rallying cry for the games ahead.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.