In their first battle with the Boston Bruins since the 6-2 drubbing the defending Stanley Cup champions handed them 10 days ago, the Buffalo Sabres accomplished nearly everything they set out to accomplish.
I say nearly, of course, because they didn't win. But they showed up this time.
On Milan Lucic's first shift, centre Paul Gaustad made up for the lack of response he called "embarrassing" a week and a half ago, conspicuously lining up next to him, so as to deliver that response, belatedly. The result was the staged fight I figured we'd see early on.
Lucic won the fight, but that's okay. This wasn't about winning; it was about Gaustad making up for what he felt was a failing 10 days ago, and sending a message to both teams that the Sabres weren't about to roll over this time.
Of course, it's one thing to do so in a planned fight; it's another thing to follow it up in the heat of the moment, and the Sabres did that as well. When Brad Marchand took a liberal run at Nathan Gerbe, the whole team stood up.
Again, Paul Gaustad was the first to the scene, wasting no time in taking an equally liberal run at Marchand, which, of course, set off some fireworks.
If you ask me, the most unfortunate thing for anyone that might consider a feud with the Boston Bruins is that, over the course of the hostility, someone is eventually going to have to fight Zdeno Chara.
On Wednesday night, that someone was Robyn Regehr.
Give Regehr credit for answering the bell, especially since everyone knew he wasn't going to win, including him. Heck, he doesn't even seem all that interested in the scrap. As the two men drift away from the scrum, you can practically hear him sighing resignedly.
But, as I said, the Sabres weren't out to win fights. They were simply trying to prove that last time was an aberration, that they're tough enough to respond when a team tries to take liberties with them. The two losses on the fight card are inconsequential; this was a minor victory for Buffalo, who showed they aren't as soft as people have said.
Of course, the major victory would have been the actual victory. The Sabres were never going to exact revenge physically; if they were truly out to punish the Bruins, it was going to have to be on the scoresheet, and by ending Boston's 9-game winning streak.
They came close, but they weren't able to do that, falling 4-3 in a shootout. This is because it's not just enough to answer the Bruins physically; you also have to outplay them, and they are very, very good.
Thinking about it, it's actually pretty ironic that the Buffalo Sabres, a skilful team with questionable toughness, held their own in the physical battle, and then lost in a skills competition.