- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

NEW YORK Wearing a No. 88 Rangers jersey for the first time, Eric Lindros stood stonefaced at the red line as Madison Square Garden fell utterly silent last night in remembrance of the victims of last week's terrorist attack.

Players from the Rangers and New Jersey Devils intertwined at center ice as some of the loudest fans in the nation grew hauntingly quiet so quiet that two minor sounds from the upper level a woman's cough and someone's cell phone could clearly be heard throughout the arena.

"Love it or leave it," a fan finally bellowed before "God Bless America" and "The Star Spangled Banner" were sung, each followed by a brief but raucous chant of "U-S-A, U-S-A."

Lindros scored at 12:21 of the third period in his first game of the preseason as New York defeated New Jersey 6-1.

"For 2* hours, we got a chance to have a little bit of an escape," Lindros said. "Hopefully we gave a little relief to those who came tonight, some sunshine in an otherwise gloomy situation."

With the stands far from full and the city a long way from forgetting the events of the past eight days, a small sense of normalcy returned to the city's sporting life.

The Devils-Rangers exhibition was the first professional sporting event to be held anywhere in the city since the attacks. The Mets and Yankees have both been playing on the road since baseball resumed Monday.

"I think it'll be like it was at the Yankees game [in Chicago] last night somber at first, but I think they'll get into playing," said Dom Simonetti, a Rangers fan from New Jersey who went onto the Internet to purchase a center ice ticket in the first row of the middle deck.

Simonetti had a miniature American flag tucked into his shirt, a souvenir that the Rangers distributed at the gates along with a poster of the American flag.

Prior to reaching the gates, however, fans had to submit to being scanned with hand-held metal detectors by blue-jacketed security guards wearing red, white and blue pins on their lapels.

Other guards checked briefcases and bags at the entrances. The small size of the crowd and the continued somber mood of the city led to orderly scenes at the checkpoints.

The Devils traveled to the Garden by crossing the George Washington Bridge with a fairly large police escort.

"It's not going to be easy playing out there with this fresh in everybody's minds and people still dealing with it," Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer said. "There has to be a first time, and I guess that's tonight."

Lindros, acquired from Philadelphia in the offseason after sitting out the 2000-01 season, took the opening faceoff for the Rangers and controlled the puck.

In pregame introductions, he was cheered louder than anybody except the three firefighters who were shown in a photo on the scoreboard raising the American flag atop a pile of twisted wreckage at the site now known as Ground Zero.

Advertising signs were removed from the boards, replaced by a message from the Rangers: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all injured and missing, New York's Finest and Bravest, all volunteers and rescue workers."

In the hallways of the Garden, however, reminders of the tragedy were hard to miss. Several advertisements with the World Trade Center's twin towers prominently displayed were still in place throughout the building.

Theo Fleury, Jeff Toms, Sandy McCarthy, Radek Dvorak and Martin Richter also scored for the Rangers, who got a strong performance in goal from rookie Dan Blackburn over the first 32:08.

"You could really feel the emotion there during the moment of silence," said Blackburn, who visited a firehouse earlier in the day with several teammates.

Bobby Holik scored for the Devils.

The crowd was announced at 14,646, but about half that many people were in the stands.

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