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Three Stars: Senators 3, Sabres 2 (OT)

Panther Power: Florida goes for top spot in the East

The Florida Panthers have a seven-point lead in the Southeast Division and get this: They will take over first place in the Eastern Conference if they beat the Sabres tonight. Florida hasn't held that spot since it was 28-15-13 on Feb. 12,  1997 -- when Lindy Ruff was a Panthers assistant and the franchise was nine months removed from its lone trip to the Stanley Cup final.

The Panthers posted a 2-0 win last night in Boston, are gunning for their first four-game winning streak since 2007 tonight and their first back-to-back wins ever in Buffalo (they posted a 3-2 victory here on Oct. 29). They figured to be improved with so many new faces, but first in the East?

"We've really made an effort to downplay it," said first-year coach Kevin Dineen, who directed the Sabres' minor leaguers in Portland the last three years. "It's one game and then somebody plays tomorrow night and they fip-flop back over you. We had a win last night that we probably were thoroughly outplayed and were fortunate to walk out of Boston with two points. 

"The margin of first overall or a playoff spot is just so low you don't sweat those areas. We know we'll have our hands full. We played a game in Los Angeles last week where I thought we thoroughly outplayed Los Angeles in every aspect of the game (outshooting the Kings, 42-26, in a 3-1 loss) and didn't get a point so it has that kind of give-and-take and I think the standings are the same way."

Still, this is a franchise that hasn't played a playoff series since 2000 and has won exactly one postseason game since getting swept in the '96 final by Colorado. So this is heady stuff.

Admitted Dineen, "It's really nice waking up your team is in a playoff spot and has a certain level of respect, but things are very fleeting."

This is a tough stretch for a team that always has rugged travel. Florida is on game seven of a run that has seven out of eight on the road. The Panthers have gone 4-2 so far. 

Watch the Florida defense tonight. Panthers blueliners have an NHL-high 74 points (15-59-74), with Jason Garrison's eight goals leading the NHL and one more than he had in 113 games heading into this season and former Sabre Brian Campbell tied for fourth in the NHL with 22 assists.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

One-game ban for Leino

The NHL ruling has just come down -- Ville Leino gets a one-game suspension for his elbow on Philly's Matt Read and will thus miss Friday's game against Florida and be out $24,324.32. Seems fair enough, although let's remember that Jordin Tootoo only got two games for bullrushing through Ryan Miller last week. 

But that's NHL justice for you. Here's Brendan Shanahan's explanation.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)


Inside the NHL chat with Bucky Gleason at 10 a.m.

Tootoo gets two games for hit on Miller

The word has just come down from the NHL -- a two-game suspension for Nashville's Jordin Tootoo for running over Ryan Miller. Brendan Shanahan's video explanation is below. The NHL discipline czar said he didn't feel there was enough contact from Christian Ehrhoff to justify Tootoo's actions and that the Nashville forward looked up and saw Miller in his path after the puck had been knocked away.

"The onus therefore is on Tootoo to avoid, or at the very least, minimize his contact with the goaltender," Shanahan said. "While we believe that Tootoo's motivation on this play was to attempt to score and not to hit Miller, the fact remains that it is the attacking player's responsibility to make a better effort not to crash directly into the opposing goaltender."

Shanahan added the call of major for charging and game misconduct was correct. The two-game suspension was rooted in the fact Miller was not injured and Tootoo has not been suspended the last four years. Pffft. 

We spoke to Lindy Ruff after practice before any ruling was handed down, so there won't be any comment from him until after tomorrow's morning skate.

Join me at 3 for a live chat on Tootoo, realignment and all things Sabres and NHL. Be sure to watch the Shanahan video below before you join!

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

Ducks fire Carlyle, hire Boudreau; trade talks over?

I stayed up last night to watch the Ducks snap their seven-game losing streak with a 4-1 win over the going-nowhere Canadiens and turned the TV off at the final buzzer since NHL Center Ice doesn't show teams' local postgame shows. Too bad on this night.

Woke up this morning to find out the Ducks had fired coach Randy Carlyle, who led them to the Stanley Cup in 2007, and hired Bruce Boudreau just three days after he was fired in Washington. 

You have to wonder how this changes the Ducks' approach going forward. As I wrote this morning, Ryan Miller wants to stay in Buffalo but the Ducks are known to be all over the trade market right now while dangling star winger Bobby Ryan. GM Bob Murray led a trio of Anaheim reps in the First Niagara Center press box Tuesday night.

Carlyle's contract ran through 2014 and the theory was that Murray was going to keep him and try to shake up the team with trades Showing up with two scouts for a late November game in Buffalo was a clear indication of that. But I agree with the likes of Hall of Fame writer Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times who tweeted this early this morning: Ownership must have ordered Murray to change course and fire the coach or he was going to be gone, too.

It will be interesting to see how this effects the Ducks moving forward. Do they hold off on any trades now that they have a new voice in the locker room? Can't imagine Boudreau wants to see them ship off a 30-goal scorer. For a team in California that was 14th in the West, the Ducks were creating chatter around the hockey world. It's possible they silenced all of that early this morning while most of us were sleeping.

As for the next coaching move,  you  wonder  how much longer Jacques Martin lasts in Montreal. The Canadiens look terrible. The Carlyle firing is the 167th change in the NHL since Lindy Ruff took over the Sabres in 1997. In fact, the only three teams that haven't switched coaches since the 2005 lockout are the Sabres, Nashville (Barry Trotz) and Detroit (Mike Babcock). Ruff is a complete anomaly.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Inside the NHL chat with Bucky Gleason

Three stars: Islanders 2, Sabres 1

Last-place Islanders struggling to score

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been much better of late since the injured Jeff Carter got back in the lineup and have put together a 4-2-2 stretch. So right now, there is nobody in the NHL worse than the New York Islanders but the Sabres can't take them lightly tonight in First Niagara Center.

Buffalo lost three times to the Isles last season -- and gave up 20 goals in the four meetings. But the Islanders are currently in crisis and owner Charles Wang even gave the vote of confidence to GM Garth Snow and coach Jack Capuano, who has to be a little nervous today given what happened to Bruce Boudreau after his visit here Saturday.

Since starting the season 3-1,  the Islanders are just 3-10-3. Scoring has been their trouble this year as they sit in last place in the Eastern Conference standings.

In going 6-11-4, they're last in the league with only 41 goals, a paltry 1.95 per game. The Isles have been shut out six times and scored just one or two goals in nine other games! John Tavares leads the team with eight goals -- but has none in his last 10 games -- while Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner have seven each. That's 22 of the 41 from just three players.

With no offense, the Islanders can't fall behind. They're 1-10-2 when opponents score first, 1-8-1 when trailing after one period and 0-10 when trailing after two.

They are, however, coming off a win. The Islanders eked out a 3-2 victory Saturday in New Jersey after Zach Parise's apparent tying goal in the final two seconds was disallowed by video replay.

"They'll look at using this last game against New Jersey as a stepping zone in the right direction," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said today. "(Last year) they were scoring goals and obviously now they're having a tough time in that area. They have some tremendous young talent out there. ... I think it's a matter of time before they click."

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

On the Sabres Beat live chat with John Vogl at 2 p.m.

Loss to Sabres is last straw as Caps whack Boudreau, hire Dale Hunter

Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau looked beaten here Saturday morning and sounded befuddled Saturday night when he said of his struggling team, "It's got to come from within I've got to believe. Because if I've got to teach them how to be tough, then I don't know quite how to do that."

The coach-killing Caps completely went through the motions during their 5-1 loss to the injury-riddled Sabres and they apparently got their wish Monday morning: Boudreau was fired and replaced by London Knights coach and longtime Sabres antagonist Dale Hunter.

Hunter, 51, is one of four Caps to have his number retired by the team and appeared in 872 games with them from 1987-1999, including the 1998 Stanley Cup final team that beat the Sabres in the Eastern Conference finals. Hunter, of course, is best remembered in Buffalo as the chief pest of the old Quebec Nordiques during those classic 1980s battles in the regular season and playoffs.

Since starting the season 7-0, the Capitals are just 5-9-1. Alexander Ovechkin is a shell of his former self and has openly battled with Boudreau over ice time. Alexander Semin has been a healthy scratch. The Caps lack any semblance of passion and, of course, have the mental issues involved with two straight early playoff flameouts when a lot of people thought they were the best team in the East.

Hunter takes over tomorrow night against St. Louis, which has been surging the last two weeks since hiring Ken HItchcock. Mark Hunter, Dale's younger brother and a former NHLer himself, will take over in London.

As for Boudreau? He just wore out his welcome in DC but he'll certainly get another job at some point. And if he doesn't, he'll always be famous for that great F-bomb rant in the dressing room last year on HBO's 24/7.

Next coach on the hot seat? It's still pretty warm for Paul Maurice in Carolina but I'm betting Randy Carlyle is in his final days in Anaheim, where the Ducks lost their seventh straight last night and are quickly falling out of the Western Conference race. They are 14th and have won once in their last 14 games. Ouch.

10:15 a.m. update: Two Southeast Division coaches down today as the Hurricanes just fired Maurice and will replace him with former NHL player and assistant coach Kirk Muller, who had been the head man with Milwaukee of the AHL. If I'm Carlyle, I stay away from the phone today.

10:20 a.m. update: Caps owner Ted Leonsis has blogged a thank-you to Boudreau.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Three stars: Sabres 5, Capitals 1

Ruff: 'We have to play a real hard game'

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.

Hear Ruff's session with the media below:


Download audio 

--Mike Harrington
(twitter.com/bnharrington)

Inside the NHL chat with Bucky Gleason at 10 a.m.

On the Sabres Beat live chat with John Vogl at 3 p.m.

From 15th in East to 3rd, Bruins go for 10 wins in a row here Wednesday night

It was a sensational return Monday night for Sidney Crosby with two goals and two assists in the Penguins' 5-0 win over the Washington Generals-like New York Islanders and that's the story that will dominate the hockey world Tuesday morning.

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.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Boucher, not Ward, in goal for Canes

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes have lost six of their last seven and coach Paul Maurice is dealing with daily rumors about his job status. So what does the coach have in store tonight against the Sabres? A surprise in goal.

The Canes didn't skate today and Maurice met the media this evening in the 5 o'clock hour with the announcement that backup Brian Boucher will play goal against the Sabres and not former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cam Ward.

Maybe Maurice is playing a hunch off Boucher's work in the playoffs against Buffalo last year, although some of that was certainly spotty. He said it's largely a byproduct of giving Ward a mental break.

Ward is just 6-8-2 with a 3.27 GAA and .904 save percentage. Boucher has yet to start at home and is 0-2-1, 3.86. .864.

Boucher is 3-4, 2.86 in his regular season career against Buffalo, but owns wins in the playoffs in 2000 and 2011. For all that you remember Ward for in 2006, his regular season mark against Buffalo is a pedestrian 7-6-2, 2.89.

The Canes were complete no-shows in Wednesday's 4-0 loss at Montreal but this still seems odd. Your job is at stake and you put it in the hands of the journeyman over the guy with the ring? Whatever.

Join us at 7 for our live blog. The MSG telecast will be run by Kevin Sylvester, Danny Gare and Brian Duff.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Inside the NHL live chat with Bucky Gleason at 10 a.m.

Live from First Niagara Center: Devils at Sabres

On the Sabres Beat live chat with John Vogl

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John Vogl

John Vogl

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.

@BuffNewsVogl | jvogl@buffnews.com

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

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.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

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.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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