BUFFALO, N.Y. -
Some days, Lindy Ruff must wake up thinking it’s damn good to keep the same NHL coaching gig 13 straight years when 153 changes have been been made since his hiring.
Thursday was not one of them, as everyone up and down the New England coast mocked his team’s Don Cherry moment — when the Buffalo Sabres were nailed with a too-many-men penalty — leading to them going down 3-1 in their series with the Bruins.
Of course, Ruff didn’t purposely send Drew Stafford over the boards as the seventh man in the second overtime period but, as Cherry took the blame in 1979 when hated rival Montreal won Game 7 and went on to the Stanley Cup, Ruff took the post-game media bullet for Stafford.
“Ultimately, when there’s too many men, it’s the coach’s fault,” Ruff said, though that was the extent of his civility where other matters late in Game 4 were concerned.
Ruff was outraged at the work of referees Kevin Pollock and Kelly Sutherland, for what he thought were two bogus penalties that breathed life into the Bruins, trailing by a deuce entering the third period.
Ruff believed, with some justification, that Cody McCormick had been pushed into Boston goalie Tuukka Rask by teammate Johnny Boychuk, leading to Boston’s first goal.
“I thought we were getting a power play (when McCormick was called),” Ruff said dryly.
“Their own guy took their goaltender out. And if Pat Kaleta hitting (Milan) Lucic is a call (for boarding, that further sapped Sabres momentum) that’s strange.”
The two zebras don’t quite belong in the Buffalo sports hall of infamy with Bills kicker Scott Norwood (wide right), Dallas Star Brett Hull (in the crease) and Tennessee Titan Frank Wycheck (forward pass), but keep in mind Ruff’s use of the term “strange” has to do with personal consequences in Hull’s Cup-winning goal and an emotional stake in the other two as an adopted son of Western New York.
So, to think he had been hosed after what could be called Buffalo’s best game of the series, only to be facing elimination again Friday, put him in an ugly mood.
He might be a few bucks lighter in the wallet, too, once word of his rant is relayed to NHL headquarters.
Ruff does not take his long tenure here for granted.
He seethed at missing the playoffs the previous two seasons and knows that failure to win an opening round when holding an ace in goalie Ryan Miller will not reflect well on him or the team.
“We didn’t blow it, nobody blew it,” Ruff said, terminating a chilly post-game press conference on Wednesday.
“Do you think (Kaleta-Lucic) was a penalty? And (Boston’s Mark) Recchi hitting Tim Kennedy (wasn’t) a penalty? Case closed.”
Miller, who made some incredible overtime saves as the night wore on, took an apology from Stafford before going before the cameras and admitting it sucked to lose a game through circumstances within the team’s control.
He and the Sabres can still cling to one stat, that 10 games between the Northeast rivals this year have been decided by two goals or less.
Lives for today
“If they can win three, we can win three,” Miller said, though his team has now lost twice in the series when leading in the third and he has lost three overall to rookie Finn Tuukka Rask.
Cherry made the too-many-men call and his subsequent firings in Boston and Colorado part of his long-running broadcasting act.
But the no-nonsense Ruff can’t laugh this off.
He lives for today and that means a reward for the team, the city of Buffalo and himself, all of whom have stayed loyal to the cause after so many kicks in the teeth.
But only 20 of 229 NHL teams trailing 3-1 in a best-of-seven have lived to see another series, none of them with a bison on the front.
That’s going to cause Ruff some sleepless nights.