Thomas Vanek burns Tuukka Rask for his hat trick goal. (AP)
By Mike Harrington
BOSTON -- So much happened in the Sabres' 7-4 win over the Bruins that it's hard to process in the hour or two immediately after it. My sense, however, is this has the potential to be a huge turnaround game. Quick hits:
---The Sabres need to get some scoring out of more than one line but Thomas Vanek is so hot right now, it doesn't matter. He's got 15 points in just six games this season -- and 54 points (28-26) in just 46 career games against Boston. And his passing has never been better.
"He's been awesome," said coach Lindy Ruff. "That play to Tyler Ennis [to score Buffalo's third goal] was second to none. Outmuscled a guy in front of the net and really a diving type pass that helped us get back in the game."
"The puck is going in," Vanek said. "I've always been a good passer in my mind. People are focusing on it more right now because the puck is going in."
The site of the demolished old Boston Garden will be developed in front of the TD Garden (rear, as shown in this 1998 Boston Globe photo).
By Mike Harrington
BOSTON -- The Sabres are breaking ground in a few weeks on Harbor Center, Terry Pegula's $123 million pet project in front of First Niagara Center that will feature a hotel, restaurant and two hockey rinks. By the drawings I've seen and the conversations I've had with people about it, it should be spectacular and another game-changer downtown.
Mikhail Grigorenko has been a surprise in the faceoff circle. (Getty Images)
By Mike Harrington
BOSTON -- The Sabres have to be quicker on the draw. That's become plainly obvious this season. But it could really be a major issue tonight.
Buffalo enters the game last in the NHL in faceoff percentage at 42 percent -- and the Boston Bruins are No. 1 at 60.7 percent. There's been plenty of chatter on Twitter in recent days over how significant the Sabres' troubles in the circle really are. I say it's one key problem to the season (although I would list lack of secondary scoring and poor play along the blueline as bigger trouble spots).
(*I acknowledge a decent argument can be made that six games is a small sample size, although I remind you it's already 12.5 percent of the season. And it also can be pointed out that the numbers might even out a little bit as well because 42 percent is historically bad; the last-place team in the league has never been under 44 percent since 1998.).
Let's start by comparing the two teams' numbers. The NHL lists faceoffs in wins-losses format so a team or player that's, say, 20-25 has won 20 and lost 25 and is NOT 20 OUT OF 25 (Going 20-25 essentially means 20 of 45).
BOSTON -- It's been nearly 15 months but Milan Lucic-Ryan Miller was still on the media's minds today in TD Garden in advance of tonight's Sabres-Bruins game. Boston reporters swarmed new Sabres Steve Ott and John Scott in the locker room after the team's 40-minute pregame skate and peppered Lindy Ruff with questions about the Sabres' new approach.
Was adding Ott and Scott a reaction to Lucic? "It was just overall team toughness, make us a grittier team," said a clearly agitated Ruff. "It had nothing to do with the Bruins."
"You try to win the puck battles and the territorial battles. We have to win a game. Not coming out of here with points is not being successful. In a short season we need points. We've answered the physcial challenge. We've been there for each other from day one in this. We play a gritty style, a hitting style. We have to win games."
Come on, admit it. I got you right from the headline of this post.
But I'm not joking either. Did you see what happened at the start of the Bruins-Devils six-round shootout last night in TD Garden?
The video above gives you the answer. Hall of Famer Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe recounts the doughy affair with this uproarious game story.(*Dupont wrote a photographer at rinkside said the object was a pretzel even if the YouTube author above said hot dog).
The Canadiens are keeping No. 3 overall pick Alex Galchenyuk. (Getty Images)
By Mike Harrington
The Sabres are still up in the air with Mikhail Grigorenko even though the decision to keep him in the NHL seems like a no-brainer from this view. He's talented, he's creative and he plays center -- an area this team is woefully thin at. You want to see Grigorenko or Matt Ellis? You want them to force Ville Leino back to center, as Lindy Ruff mused about today? Please.
Keep the kid.
Still, it's only been 50-50 among other NHL teams about keeping key junior eligibles or sending them back. Here's a quick rundown:
The first thing Boston coach Claude Julien was asked after his team's pregame skate today was how strange it would be to not see Lindy Ruff on the Sabres' bench. Tonight's game, after all, will be just the second one since 1997 with Ruff absent.
Julien admitted it would be odd and said he's had several close calls in practice as well with collisions like Ruff and with pucks to the head like the one Edmonton's Tom Renney took Monday in Toronto.
"He may pop in there, you never know," Julien said of Ruff. "But I know he's been through a pretty bad fall. You don't like to see those things. Tom gets the puck in the head and it just goes to show you there's always a risk out there.
"... It happens. That's why you've got to be ready all the time. Sometimes when you see it, you can brace yourself. When you don't, it can be a tough fall. We don't have much protection underneath that sweatsuit except for the extra weight we carry."
Julien confirmed that Tuukaa Rask, who beat the Sabres in the playoffs as a rookie in 2010, will start tonight against Ryan Miller instead of Tim Thomas. Rask is a backup goalie who hardly has backup numbers -- he's 11-6-2 and third in the NHL in both goals-against average (1.88) and save percentage (.936). But like his team, Rask has struggled of late with an 0-2-1 record, and figures of 3.26 and .884 in the last three games.
Rask is 4-3, 2.28, .931 in his career against Buffalo in the regular season. Thomas, meanwhile, is 10-9-4 against Buffalo and his stats against the Sabres (3.10, .899) are his worst in every category against teams he's played at least 10 games.
TORONTO -- More than 12 years after it closed its doors as the city's sports palace, Maple Leaf Gardens was reborn two weeks ago when the first phase of its redevelopment opened. As a Loblaws. Yes, a supermarket. But don't laugh.
I went and checked it out a couple times over the last two days and it's a spectacular example of urban re-use. And it really makes you shake your head even more about what wasn't done down at the Aud, which is still a big, ugly hole in the ground.
And it's only Phase I. The next part is taking the upper floors of the old arena and converting them into a new home for the Ryerson Tech athletic program, specifically the hockey team. So there will be hockey played in the next year or two at the old barn. That part isn't open for viewing yet (but if you click on the link and play the Toronto Star video, you can see what's inside).
I went to maybe a half-dozen Leafs games at the Garden, three of them with our late friend/News Sports Reporter and Leafs fan extraordinaire Tom Borrelli. (I do wonder what he would think about the Gardens as a supermarket!).
The Loblaws is even better than the cavernous Wegmans that we see back in Buffalo. There's an 18-foot wall of cheese, a deli with slabs of meat behind glass, a pizza/pasta/prepared foods station that is just huge. There are pastries, chocolate, seafood, everything you can imagine.
But what I like is they just didn't just bulldoze the place and plop a supermarket in. They understood this was Maple Leaf Gardens. The marquee out front has been reborn for starters (above left). Inside, there's exposed brick. There's a giant Maple Leafs logo statue hanging above an escalator -- made of old blue seats from the building (left).
The tables where you can sit and eat have glass tops that cover old clippings of all kinds of events from building's glory days, from hockey to wrestling to Billy Graham. There's a giant mural near the entrance that replicates one that used to be in the building. and there are several old Gardens seats in front of it for you to rest. There are poles in each shopping aisle showing great moments in the building's history (right).
And there's even this: In aisle 25 -- directly next to the Spam (really!) -- there's a big red dot on the floor (left). There's no sign telling you what it is (there should be; take care of that, Loblaws). What is it? The exact spot where center dot was on the old rink.
It's how he plays every night and nothing is changing tonight even though he's public enemy No. 1 in this town. How does he feel about that?
"It's happened to me before, a couple of years ago back in Montreal," Lucic said. "They still boo me there. It's something that comes with the game and helps build a rivalry. It's fun to be a part of rivalries like this."
Asked how strange it would be to become a bigger villain here than Zdeno Chara, Lucic smiled and said, "We'll have to wait and see what the reception is."
Like Lindy Ruff said earlier today, Lucic and Boston coach Claude Julien said Brendan Shanahan's call to the respective GMs won't really impact the way they approach the game. Lucic did admit he knows what the Sabres are going through; the Big, Bad Bruins got torched in their hometown two years ago for lack of response when Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke KO'd Marc Savard.
"It's not fun when media and people are pointing fingers around because of what happened and they start pointing fingers at guys in the room," Lucic said. "Definitely they're going to be prepared for this game, not just for this game because of the incident but also because they lost, 6-2. They're going to want to come back with a big effort so we know they're going to be fired up and ready to go tonight."
The Bruins have won nine straight and have outscored foes, 43-14, in that stretch. Yikes. Tim Thomas will play goal again tonight after posting shutouts in the last two games to extend his scoreless streak to 133:04. Thomas has three straight shutouts on the road -- a first in the NHL since Toronto's Ed Belfour in 2003-04 -- and a streak of 222:16 away from TD Garden.
Cracked Julien: "It doesn't take a brain surgeon to make that decision for tonight to go with your best goaltender."
Tonight's winner will move into first place in the Northeast with 26 points (tied with Toronto but with fewer games played). Hear Julien and Lucic's sessions with reporters below:
A stone-faced Lindy Ruff kept the media waiting much longer than normal following today's morning skate and then didn't have much to say in advance of tonight's grudge match against the Boston Bruins. Not unusual. Ruff always has quite a gameface on after morning skates, especially in situations like this when the eyes of the hockey world are on his team.
"I'm expecting our team to come out hard in all areas," was Ruff's message he repeated during the three-minute chat. "We have to play a real hard game. That's the message in all areas. Hard on the puck, hard getting it back, hard physically."
NHL vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan has spoken to general managers Darcy Regier and Peter Chiarelli and told them their teams are on high notice to not have any shenanigans tonight in the wake of the Milan Lucic-Ryan Miller incident 11 days ago in Boston.
"I haven't talked to the team about that, no," Ruff said. "It doesn't change anything for me."
But Ruff cut off a question about retaliation a few seconds later by saying, "I don't think Shanahan would like to hear that."
The media throng was large by regular-season standards, with several outlets from Southern Ontario joining Buffalo and Boston reporters. Many of the Sabres were already off the ice and in trainers' areas when reporters were allowed in, and no one spoke to the likes of Paul Gaustad and Patrick Kaleta, the two likely candidates to do something with Lucic.
Pressed again on what the Sabres need to do tonight, Ruff said, "I'll answer the question one more time: We were disappointed in our response and that won't happen again."
The Sabres' response to the incident is one issue. Trying to beat a Boston team that has won nine straight is something else entirely.
"They got their game in place, getting depth in scoring, great goaltending," Ruff said. "They're back. They're proving they're a championship team. Until somebody knocks them off, they're on a roll where they think they can go out and repeat. It's a great opportunity for us to make a statement."
Ruff confirmed Jochen Hecht would make his season debut tonight but it's unknown who will sit up front. Kaleta, who missed yesterday for maintenance, was on the ice. So was defenseman Mike Weber, who skated with his teammates for the first time since suffering an undisclosed upper-body injury Nov. 16 against New Jersey.
Weber skated in the same color jersey as the injured Tyler Ennis and won't play tonight either.
But in the Shake-Your-Head Division, Team Department, comes the story of the Boston Bruins. The Bs survived Monday night in Montreal, 1-0, to win their ninth straight game as Tim Thomas posted his second straight shutout. That means they hit town for Wednesday's grudge match in First Niagara Center against the Sabres going for 10 in a row, just another juicy subplot in a game full of them.
And then there's this: The Bruins (12-7-0) took over first place in the Northeast from the Sabres (12-8-0) by virtue of higher points percentage. That puts Boston third in the Eastern Conference -- just 16 days after the Bruins were dead last in 15th place at 3-7. Pretty incredible. The Bruins were actually second for a few minutes until the upstart Florida Panthers took over the spot with a 4-3 win over New Jersey in a game they trailed, 3-0.
The Sabres, meanwhile, fall from second in the East to fifth.
The Sabres said all the right things about the Boston Bruins after practice Monday. If revenge against Milan Lucic is on their mind, you sure wouldn't know it. While it's reasonable to think the fan base is at least interested in a pound of flesh as it is with two points, the Sabres tried to give us the business-as-usual approach.
"I don't know what the fans are wanting," insisted Paul Gaustad. "We want to get a win. I think that's what we have to focus on: Playing our game, execute our system and try to win. ... We have to address it as taking care our business of executing the game. We're trying to win the two points. You have to focus on our systems and execute what they'll do with their systems."
Lucic, of course, said after the game in Boston the Bruins were a different team and would never allow their goalie to get steamrolled. So he bruised the Sabres on the ice and again after the game. What was Gaustad's reaction to that?
"I don't watch the media or read the newspapers," he said. "So I don't know exactly what he said. It's his opinion and we tried to put that in the past and focus on the stretch of games we've had here."
"All that other stuff, you can't think about it or talk about it too much," added defenseman Robyn Regehr. "You have to try to win a game. There's certain things that happen spontaneously and so be it. It happesn when you're playing a good hard physical, aggressive game. I don't think there's going to be any sort of premediated stuff if that's what you're implying. First and foremost, let's win this hockey game."
The only sign came from Lindy Ruff, who first tried to feign ignorance when asked if the NHL had made any pre-emptive phone call yet to the teams. Then Ruff admitted, "We're all smart enough. As the cowboy would say, 'This ain't my first rodeo.' "
MONTREAL -- This just in from the NHL's Toronto headquarters: Milan Lucic has escaped his league hearing with no suspension. Here's the NHL.com story detailing the thoughts of NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan, who spoke to Lucic today via conference call.
In essence, Shanahan said he could not determine an elevated level of intent on Lucic's part and that the Bruins' player was properly penalized for charging.
"The minor penalty called on the ice was the correct call," Shanahan said. "And, while it's unfortunate that Miller was hurt I saw nothing egregious about this hit that would elevate it to supplemental discipline."
There is no immediate comment from the Sabres. In situations like this, GM Darcy Regier usually speaks to the media between periods of that night's game. But you know how the Sabres feel. Remember what Lindy Ruff said this morning?
"If [Lucic] isn't suspended, it just means teams will be able to do exactly what Lucic did," Ruff said. "Their goaltender can play the puck, we can run him over. We can hurt him and all you get is a two-minute minor penalty. That's essentially what that means. You can concuss the other team's goaltender. You can run him going at whatever speed he was going. He made no attempt to get out of the way. It means it's fair game on goaltenders."
So the message is clear in the wake of Lucic's escape: If your goalie is hit, take care of it yourselves. The Sabres should have done that Saturday. They'll meet the Bruins again Nov. 23. That should be interesting.
1) "There shouldn't be game plans to run goaltenders over. I'm all for that. To say you put traffic in front of him is one thing. To run him over, I disagree with that. So again, it just kind of reinforces that it certainly wasn't meant to happen that way."
2). On why Miller played another period after the hit: "With the new protocol and the concussion stuff, I know the last three NHLPA meetings that I've been part of, they've clarified about concussions and head injuries, the main thing that they talked about is there's no such thing as getting your bell rung or seeing stars anymore. That's considered a concussion. And if you're in that position, you have to do whatever you can to take yourself out of play. And obviously, Ryan plays a big part in the NHLPA and what he does, and I respect him what he does there. That's pretty much it."
(It should be noted the Bruins' team doctors ruled Miller out after the SECOND period).
3). The Bruins remain skeptical Miller got a concussion on the hit. Said Lucic: "I've looked at it and his shoulder hit my chest, so there was no hit to his head. His helmet came flying off, but his head didn’t hit the ice."
EN ROUTE TO MONTREAL -- Greetings from JFK Airport as I await the flight to Montreal, where the Sabres have scheduled a noon meeting in the Bell Centre. Who wouldn't want to be a fly on the wall in that one after the stunning events of last night in Boston?
Well, it's long been an issue among their fan base, but the Sabres now have a full-blown issue as a weak team across the hockey world in the wake of last night's Milan Lucic-Ryan Miller dustup.
Read John Vogl's full recap from the Garden, which includes Miller's rant against Lucic -- and the Boston tough guy's pithy response that just about says it all: "We wouldn't accept anything like that. We would have [taken] care of business. But we're a different team than they are."
Obviously so. The Sabres are getting killed. Billy Jaffe on MSG Live out of New York called them "soft" last night. The Hockey Night in Canada Hot Stove crew of P.J. Stock and Mike Milbury was baffled by the lack of response and the headline from this New England Sports Network column says a a lot too: "Ryan Miller calls Milan Lucic gutless for hit on goalie but Sabres lack of response was truly gutless."
Judge for yourself.
Here's a snippet from NESN of Lucic with reporters. Look at the smirk at the beginning of the interview and the little smile and raised eyebrow at the end when asked if he was surprised there was no response.
I guess Paul Gaustad doesn't fight anymore. Even Lindy Ruff pointed out he was on the ice. Would you have thought differently about Tyler Myers' disastrous night if he had at least done something with Lucic? Probably.
So what should the Sabres have done? Well, this isn't old-time hockey. I realize that. But you still don't run the goalie like Lucic did. Yes, Miller was out to play the puck and was fair game (**I take back what I wrote in an airport at 7 a.m. he was fair game to a point when he had the puck..but Lucic still has to try to avoid contact. That was totally unnecessary). . But when was the last time you saw that? Lucic knew who was on the ice and knew he had few worries.
You want to see what USED to happen when you ran the goalie? Check out these dustups.
The Bruins didn't allow this stuff in the 70s (see Willi Plett and Gerry Cheevers) and the Sabres certainly got a pound of flesh in the 80s in Detroit after Tom Barrasso got run earlier in the game. Look how the Bruins and Red Wings answered. Compare that to last night. Nuff said.
Summer isn't over yet for the Boston Bruins on their individual tours with the Stanley Cup. Each member of the winning team gets it for a day and today is Michael Ryder's day in his hometown of St. John, Newfoundland. Ryder, who will play for the Dallas Stars this year, is planning a helicopter ride but the day didn't start very well as the Cup got dinged thanks to a tricky table leg.
Check out the video from the St. John Telegram. Bet there's a nervous Cupkeeper nearby.
Boston is going to get a chance at another championship. Hey Beantown, how about sharing with the rest of us? For the ninth time since 2001, a Boston team is in the finals of the four major sports after the Bruins' 1-0 win in Game Seven against the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday night.
While the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics have all had good runs of late, it's been a long time for the Bruins. They haven't made the Stanley Cup Final since losing to Edmonton in 1990 and haven't won the Cup since 1972. As a city, Boston is 6-2 in its recent title forays.
Writes Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy: "These are Boston’s Glory Days, Black-and-Golden Days, Lobster Salad Days." And he throws out another wild note: If the Bruins win the Cup, the Boston team with the longest title drought would be the Patriots -- going all the way back to 2005!
Nathan Horton (above right) got the goal with 7:33 left made the difference and he is the first player in history with two Game Seven winning goals in the same playoff year. The Bruins got him from Florida last June for defenseman Dennis Wideman, the 15th overall pick in last year's draft a third-round pick this year. Lots of folks in these parts were advocating the Sabres go for Horton. Pretty good return for the Bruins, don't you think?
Down in Tampa, St. Pete Times columnist Gary Shelton -- one of my favorites from trips to the Final Four and World Series -- had this take on the end of a great ride for the Bolts: "No one is ever sorry to see a bad season end, after all. A bad team is like a bad tooth, and the quicker you can get rid of it, the better. When a team is successful, however, you cannot help but notice the opportunity that was missed."
In Vancouver, meanwhile, enthusiasm is higher than ever for the Canucks. In the form of a 56 feet long and 20 feet wide banner (left) affixed to the control tower at the Vancouver airport. Game One of the final is Wednesday night.
And who could be a surprise entry at some point in this series? Canucks center Manny Malhotra, a faceoff ace who suffered a career-threatening eye injury more than two months ago, is practicing fully. That would be quite an addition. Shades of Erik Cole returning to the Hurricanes late in the '06 final against Edmonton.
And how about some kudos for my cohorts? In our season preview video at Buffalonews.com, John Vogl picked the Bruins to beat the Canucks in the SCF while Bucky Gleason had the Canucks over Washington (I had the Capitals over the Canucks. Oh well). If you scroll to the 2:25 mark below, you can review the discussion of our picks.
---Mike Harrington (www.twitter.com/bnharrington)
(Horton photo from AP, Vancouver tower photo from Canucks.com)
John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.
Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.