Battle-scarred Sabre

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

BUFFALO -- Nine of 10 people surveyed at the corner of Chippewa and Delaware would agree:

If any Buffalo Sabre in Game 1 of this series against the Boston Bruins would get a 10-stitch cut/black eye, and also go into the corner for a violent cycle without his helmet and distract 6-foot-9 Norris trophy winner Zdeno Chara, it would be blue-collar local boy Patrick Kaleta.

The right winger’s shiner, swelling, thumb cast and disrupted dentures were on display in the Sabres’ room after Friday’s practice, the poster boy for what could be an alley scrap from here to Beantown and back through next week.

“If he didn’t get a black eye (Thursday) night, he would’ve put (black) makeup on (Friday),” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff wryly noted. “Just the kind of guy he is.”

As Ruff observed, Kaleta had “a lot of bang for his buck” with just 6:07 of ice time. He had four hits, was involved in the biggest dustup of the night, earning a 10-minute misconduct, but in a fracas took Boston’s chief aggressors Chara and Milan Lucic off for eight minutes total.

“Mayhem was going on,” Kaleta recalled. “I’m not allowed to fight (the price he paid for coming back a few days after thumb ligament surgery instead of the required two weeks) so I just pushed, shoved and held on ... and got 10.”

With his helmet popped off on another shift, he went hard into the glass after a puck and absorbed three hits, oblivious to possible noggin damage.

“There’s not a whole lot up there,” Kaleta cracked, “so I just keep going, going and do what I have to.”

Crazy or crazy smart? The Bruins tried to be dismissive of his effect in the game, but as long as he stays clear of minor penalties and creates the kind of traffic he did on Craig Rivet’s winning goal, Ruff will back him 100%.

Born in the suburb of Angola, Kaleta is well known to folks on this side of the border from 147 points and 460 penalty minutes in four years with the Peterborough Petes. Only the fourth local to play for the Sabres (diminutive left winger Tim Kennedy is also on the team), Kaleta must have listened to Rick Jeanneret’s broadcasts in his baby crib. Mike Peca was his favourite player and Kaleta probably had chicken wings put in his school lunch box. He had an assist and fought in his first game in 2007.

“I guess I am blue collar,” Kaleta said with pride. “I love Buffalo, I loved the Sabres growing up. I want to put my body on the line and do everything I can to get those wins and those stepping stones to get the Cup.

“I could go through special playoff moments from Brad May to Dave Hannan, to the ’99 Cup run. But being out there (Thursday) was a whole other level, when you’re wearing the jersey at playoff time, one of the best moments of my life. It’s my first take on NHL playoffs. I’m going to live it up.”

Not if the Bruins can help it. A 2-1 loss hardly constitutes a blowout and their 24 second-period shots tied a Sabres record for shots allowed. For coach Claude Julien, it boils down to making the NHL’s worst offence (206 goals) get in the kitchen of arguably its best goalie, Ryan Miller.

“(Year-long scoring’s) been a challenge, but we’ve done better than a lot of teams who aren’t in the playoffs,” Julien said. “Some teams might have been able to score more, but couldn’t keep it out of their net.

“We need more traffic. I’m not saying anything that will put people in awe. (Miller) can stop what he sees, but not what he can’t and that’s where you have to do a better job. They will try to stop us and that’s where the battles happen. If you’re hungry enough and determined enough, you win them.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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