By Steve Keating
BOSTON (Reuters) - For all appearances it was business as usual on a sparkling Wednesday afternoon in Boston where the hometown Bruins prepared to host the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Across town, Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox were getting ready to host the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park.
On Boylston Street, tourists and locals - many sporting Bruins jerseys and Red Sox ball caps - were wrapping up their day before spending the evening watching their team of choice.
It was just a little over two months ago on the same bustling street that two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people, including a young Bruins fan, leaving a city dazed and a nation stunned.
Although the scars remain, life is slowly returning to normal in Boston, the day-to-day hustle and bustle replacing fear and despair as a city reclaimed the streets left bloodied and empty following the killer blast.
Certainly, there have been plenty of unexpected achievements in the sporting world to distract rattled Bostonians from the madness of that mid-April day.
The Red Sox surprisingly perched atop the American League standings, NFL sensation Tim Tebow's recent arrival with the New England Patriots and the Bruins' drive for a second Stanley Cup in three seasons have all helped lift the dark cloud hanging over the city.
"I think we can help in probably a large way," Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters as his team prepared to play the Blackhawks in Game Four of the best-of-seven Finals. "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.
"As much as the city itself has been touched by that, so have we as a team. It really hit us hard."
While life around the team has returned to an athlete's regimented normality, memories of that day are never far from the surface inside the Bruins locker room.
The Bruins were the first of the city's major league teams to return to work after the bombings and they took a leading role in a healing process that appears to have forged an even stronger bond with Boston sports fans.
The death of eight-year-old Martin Richard deeply saddened the Bruins organization, a Boston jersey with the young fan's name on it draped for a short while over statue of Hall of Famer Bobby Orr outside the TD Center.
Almost immediately after the bombings, Bruins players and staff gave first responders tickets to their first game back while Brad Marchand raffled off his private suite for the team's first playoff game and gave the proceeds to Richard's family.
During the Bruins playoff push the Boston bombing victims and those who jumped into the chaos to help offer aid have not been forgotten.
Jeff Bauman, who lost both his legs in the blast and helped identify the bombers, served as a Bruins banner captain in the opening round of the playoffs where he waved a team flag to a thundering ovation prior to the opening face off.
The Bruins have taken Beantown on thrilling post-season joy ride that has Boston within sight of their Stanley Cup goal.
These are things the Bruins have given to Boston but the Bruins maintain that their fans have given them much more by allowing the team tap into the city's resilient spirit and use their response to the bombings as a source of inspiration.
"We come to the rink every day and we love this city," said Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton. "If it helps then amazing.
"We're a pretty tight, good group of guys. If that's helping, we're extremely happy it's given a little bit."
While the Bruins, like the rest of Boston, will never forget the bombings they, like the city, are slowly starting to move.
"I've known for a long time, that's all we talked about (the bombing) in the dressing room," said Julien. "Right now we got to focus on doing our job and trying to stay focused on that so that in the end you hope that you can make that happen.
"Right now it's got to be about us before we can even think about that. If we think about ourselves, the job we need to do, hopefully the rest takes care of itself."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)