By Allan Muir
Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said all the right things ahead of his team's highly anticipated meeting with the Bruins in Boston tonight.
"We have to win a game," he told The Buffalo News. "Not coming out of here with points is not being successful. We have to win games."
With an 0-3-1 stretch greasing the Sabres' skid into the Northeast cellar, he's right. What Ruff and his team need is two points.
But don't believe for a moment that's the only thing they want from the Bruins.
Nearly 15 months may have passed since the entire team stopped to inspect their skate laces while goaltender Ryan Miller was steamrolled by Milan Lucic , but nobody has forgotten that gut check left unanswered. It gnawed away at them. Belittled them. And even though they'll say they've already addressed the issue in their subsequent meeting, there aren't many who felt that Paul Gaustad getting dummied by Lucic made for a particularly effective retort.
Fast forward to last summer. Coming off another dispiriting playoff DNQ, the Sabres had a choice about how they wanted to buttress their lineup. Add veteran skill? Youthful promise?
Nah. GM Darcy Regier had something saltier in mind.
He brought in Steve Ott, a high-revving, fully accountable pest and one who who has his own personal history with the Bruins. And he signed John Scott, the 6'-8", 270-pound behemoth who most nights spends less time on the ice than the national anthem singer, but still finds a way to make his own unique contribution.
Regier has said that those deals weren't about Boston, but he might be the only one who believes that. He understands part of what made the Bruins so successful in their Cup-winning 2010-11 campaign was the accountability of the group. Not that everyone had to drop the mitts, but at one time or another pretty much everyone did, including lightweight No. 1 center David Krejci.
For the Bruins, it's not about goons. Boston's identity was, and is, team toughness. Matching up to that blue-collar ethic makes sense for the Sabres. Creating that culture is the first step.
And if the new faces happen to amp up an already heated rivalry?
"That's their choice to build a team they want," Boston coach Claude Julien told the News. "As far as I'm concerned, speculations [about fights] are speculations. We've played our style of game forever and we don't plan on changing that."
No need to. The B's are off to a 5-0-1 start and have shown they can play it any way you want. If it gets rough, they have Lucic and Shawn Thornton ready to answer the call. And just in case, they're bringing in 6'-3", 205-pound winger Lane MacDermid (73 penalty minutes in 32 games with Providence this season) to keep the Sabres honest.
If the Sabres want those two points, they'll have to fight for them.