Invasion: Buffalo

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

BUFFALO -- "Hatred" likely is too strong a word to describe the way the Buffalo Sabres feel whenever the Maple Leafs and their legions of fans cross the Peace Bridge.

"Irritating" is a much more applicable term.

You could see it etched all over the face of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller earlier this month when the Leafs marched into the HSBC Arena -- a rink that has been a House of Horrors for the Buds over the years -- and shocked the hosts 4-1.

That loss on Nov. 4 was Buffalo's first non-shootout defeat this season, a fact that didn't sit well with Miller at the time.

In post-game interviews, Miller and some of his teammates talked about the presence of "their fans," referring to the thousands of screaming blue-and-white-clad Toronto supporters who had made the trek down the QEW to support the Leafs in Buffalo's home digs.

No wonder the Sabres were irked.

Sure, the Leafs get similar backing when they visit places such as Montreal, Detroit and Ottawa. But Buffalo is the closest road rink, a two-hour drive away.

In preparation for the Leafs' meeting against the Sabres on Wednesday at the HSBC Arena, three members of the Sabres have been asked to name the three things that irritate them the most about a Leafs visit to Buffalo:

Brian Campbell, defence

1. The media crush

When the Leafs come to town, they lug their entourage of media with them, much to the chagrin of some Sabres.

"How many times can you hear the same question?" Campbell wondered with a playful wink.

Wait until Wednesday. You'll find out.

2. Toronto this, Toronto that

Campbell, a native of Strathroy, Ont., gets so many inquiries about the Leafs from the visiting media prior to one of these grudge matches, he might soon have to check if he, too, is wearing blue and white.

"You keep getting asked and asked and asked about your opinion of the Leafs. Well, why would I care about the Leafs so much? I'm a Sabre," he said with a laugh.

3. Who needs a pair?

With the increased demand for ducats comes higher prices. "The tickets get more expensive, even for us," Campbell said.

Martin Biron, goaltender

1. Replays, replays, replays

Lose against most teams, and there will be the odd replay on the tube. Lose to the Leafs, especially in Buffalo, and the highlights don't ever seem to end.

"If they beat you, the next morning all they show and talk about on TSN and the other sports programs up there is Leafs, Leafs, Leafs," Biron said.

2. Who are you cheering for?

The presence of former Sabre Michael Peca in the Leafs lineup has Biron playfully questioning the hockey loyalties of some of his buddies.

"Michael Peca and I have some mutual friends who, the last time the Leafs for him, were waiting for him in the visiting team's greeting area when I walked by," Biron said. "It wasn't aggravating, but it did sting a bit."

3. The clogged dressing room

"For most of the year we only have the Buffalo media around," Biron said. "But when the Leafs come in, we suddenly transform into Hockey Central."

Paul Gaustad, forward

1. Who's the home team here?

Support for the Sabres is huge here, with the team's popularity surpassing that of the NFL's Bills. But with the building full on most nights regardless of the opponent, just how do all the leather-lunged Leaf backers snap up so many ducats?

"With us having so many sellouts, where do these people get their tickets?" Gaustad asked.

2. Keep the noise down

"Here you are, playing in your own building, and you hear chants of "Go Leafs Go," Gaustad said, wearing a wry smile on his face.

3. The highlight-reel deal

"When they come here, it's the only way we can get our highlights on TSN," Gaustad said.

Not really. Whether it be TSN, Sportsnet or The Score, highlights of every game usually are shown. You just get better play on the sportscasts when you play the Leafs.

The week ahead

Peca meets the Islanders tonight for just the second time since they traded him to Edmonton last season ... The Battle of Alberta resumes tomorrow in Edmonton with both teams on hot streaks ... Tomorrow's San Jose-Anaheim tilt could be a preview of the Western Conference final.


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