On Nov. 12, 2011, Milan Lucic didn’t just flatten Ryan Miller, he cracked the spine of the Buffalo Sabres in a game played in Boston.
Their failure to react in that moment revealed them as counterfeit, lacking the nasty edge that personified their division rivals. The Bruins punished you physically; the Sabres were reduced to name-calling, as Miller stuck around the locker room to call Lucic a “gutless piece of [feces].”
The next game featured the perfunctory fights from Paul Gaustad and Robyn Regehr. The following matchup had three more fights, including Pat Kaleta's. Things calmed down in the third meeting since the Lucic affair; their season finale featured a Shawn Thornton vs. Regehr in the first period, and nothing else.
Each flare-up of violence last season felt like the Buffalo Sabres trying to inadequately stand up to a bully. So the Sabres opted for authenticity in the toughness department last summer: Bringing in John Scott, one of the NHL’s top enforcers; flipping Derek Roy for the sandpaper of Steve Ott; and an expanded role for Marcus Foligno.
All of these moves tracked back to how the Bruins pushed around Buffalo. On Scott, Sabres Coach Lindy Ruff said before the season:
“Teams come in and don’t run around even if he doesn’t fight. When you have a player of his magnitude when it comes to the physical sense and somebody does something really stupid against your team, they know they’re going to have to deal with somebody who’s really tough.”
The Bruins can get a little stupid sometimes. The Sabres think they’re ready to stand up to them. On Thursday night in Boston, for the first time this season, Buffalo will have a chance to prove its new might.
The Sabres (2-3-1) enter the game in last place in the Northeast, having lost four games in a row. The Bruins have won their last three and haven’t lost a game in regulation yet (5-0-1). So on top of the physical test, the Sabres skate against the Eastern Conference’s best team so far this season.
For the sideshow, the spotlight will be on two players: Shawn Thornton and John Scott. Because they’ve got some history.
In 2011, Thornton’s face was slashed by a skate in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks. As he skated to the back, the Chicago bench chirped him, and Thornton went after them.
After the game, Scott – who was scratched – was critical of Thornton’s play against Chicago. Via Mike Cole at NESN:
“He said that? That’s fine. He can say what he wants,” Scott said. “He’s going after some of our littlest guys on our team to start a fight. He’s trying to challenge [Fernando] Pisani to a fight. What’s that say about him? “He’s Mr. Tough Guy and he’s trying to challenge Pisani. If I’m in the lineup, he’s more than welcome to come chirp at me. I’ll kick the [expletive] out of him.”
Scott backed away from the feud later in 2011. The two have yet to fight.
But it isn’t just the heavyweights that have to exude toughness for the Sabres. As Sabres Noise points out, Ryan Miller – woefully inconsistent thus far this season – is entering Boston for the first time since the Lucic hit:
Maturity and true leadership coming from a guy who is normally quick to blame the team in front of him for an off night as opposed to shouldering the blame himself. In a shortened season however, the Buffalo Sabres can ill afford to have that many bad games – and they cannot let the winless streak get to five games, as they already sit in last place in the Northeast Division.
Tonight’s game should be more than interesting – while the Lucic hit should be old news – Miller returned to go 2-0 against the Bruins last year at home – Miller did have a less than amicable exchange with Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs during the lockout. We shall see if ownership allegiance shows through, or if the players are 100 percent behind Miller in how he handled the situation.
OK, so all we want tonight: Scott vs. Thornton, Ott antagonizing Lucic and Miller making a huge save and pointing his stick at the owners’ box. Sigh … if only Kaleta were healthy for a fight with Brad Marchand.