The six-times Canadian champion held her emotions in check for 170 incredible seconds to pull off the best short programme of her life - earning a personal best 71.36 points.
It tucked her into third place behind South Korean Kim Yuna and Japan's Mao Asada at the halfway point of the women's event.
"Joannie getting up there and skating so fabulously was absolutely inspirational," Frank Carroll, the coach of men's Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, said.
Yuna's coach Brian Orser added: "There were a lot of heavy hearts in the rink and in the nation and I was just hoping that she would be able to feel the love and the support that was there for her and help carry her through.
"She felt it and I was really proud of her, she was amazing. I can't imagine what it was like for her."
In fact no one can imagine what the past three days have been like for Rochette as she tries balance the process of grieving for her mother, who died of a heart attack in Vancouver on Sunday, and winning an Olympic medal.
After putting on a brave face in public during her training sessions on Sunday and Monday, the 24-year-old finally allowed herself to break down in tears after she captivated the crowd with her sultry tango routine on Tuesday.
"Probably the two days after the passing of her mum are the hardest. You just didn't know what was going to happen," Skate Canada's high performance director Mike Slipchuk said.
"We didn't know if it was going to be a perfect skate, we didn't know if she would struggle through, we didn't know if she would hear the crowd response and not be able to continue.
"She was great from start to finish and in her zone but we all saw the release after she was done and she needed that."
Being on the ice appears to be a cathartic experience for French-speaking Rochette and on Wednesday she drew enthusiastic cheers from fans at the Pacific Coliseum as she performed sections of her free programme in a grey and black outfit.
Only once did she crash to the ice on a triple jump but she picked herself up, dusted the ice shavings off her black leggings and pulled off the jump less than a minute later.
"Despite everything that's gone on, she's just seven points out of first place and in any circumstance this would have been where she's want to be," said Slipchuk.
"What she did was truly remarkable and it's going to be an exciting and emotional evening tomorrow (in the free skate)."