BUFFALO — If the Sabres join forces the way they did to topple Zdeno Chara during the heated scrum at the end of Game 5, they might just come all the way back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Bruins.
“I liked the fact we had one guy grab him around the knees, one grab him around the waist and one grab him around the neck,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff joked of gang tackling the 6-foot-9, 255-pound defenceman. “And the big man went down.”
Chara and the Bruins didn’t show much fight on Friday until it was too late. During a 6-on-4 power play with Tuukka Rask pulled, Boston’s captain, now mask-free with his broken nose healed, was throwing his meathooks at anything in blue and gold, egged on, the Bruins claim, by a cheap shot slash to the back of his tree-trunk leg.
Whatever, the B’s were showing frustration from a missed chance to end this intense series in five games. There is now a two-day ceasefire as Game 6 shifts to Boston, where the Sabres played well enough in two visits earlier in the week, losing on a late goal and in double overtime.
But in the most one-sided match of the series on Friday — the 4-1 Buffalo win was the biggest margin of victory in 11 games between the two rivals since October — the Sabres displayed much of the strengths that made them series favourites in the first place.
The question now is: Which team will benefit most from the extra day off? It’s not believed it will make much of a difference where the injured scoring stars, Marc Savard of Boston and Thomas Vanek of the Sabres, are concerned, so it becomes a test of Buffalo’s ability to hold Friday’s momentum and bring their A game back to Beantown.
“They came out hard and kept going all night,” Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins said in grudging admiration. “They said they were deseprate and they were. We just didn’t match it.
“We have to think about the next game now, realize that they’re a good hockey team, that they want it as bad as we do. They need two wins, we need one, so we have to be ready at home.”
Hungry for good news after three close losses in the series, Buffalo was celebrating Friday night the feats of Ryan Miller (an opening-minute breakaway save, 20 more in the third period and then wading into the Chara scrum), Mike Grier (a goal and brazen shot block with his head) and Lilliputian Tyler Ennis hitting Bruins two and three times his size and hustling for an empty net goal.
“This is what I’d call a coin-flip series,” said Adam Mair, who’d stunned the Bruins with an early goal. “The bounces went our way (Friday). We just talked about every shot of theirs going to the net would be a big one for us to get in front of. Grier blocked one off the side of his head on the penalty-kill. It’s deseprate times and, when you get plays like that, it’s hard not to win.”
Much was made of mess at the end, Ruff calling Chara’s actions “stupid” and wondering if a one-game suspension was in the cards as the rules state. But the league quickly reviewed and rescinded the instigator minor given Chara that would have ejected Chara on Monday.
Miller, noting the 6-on-4 disadvantage in manpower during the melee, went into the pile and came out clutching ex-teammate Miro Satan.
“Any advantage they get, their guy is going to swing, so I have to get there and help out,” Miller reasoned. “Now that they’ve seen our best game, they’re going to have to react. We got in the lanes, we supported each other, there were two or three guys on the puck at all times and it made it tough on them to get inside.
“Grier sacrificing his body was scary, especially with what happened to (Flyers’) Ian Laperriere. I’m glad it hit Mike mainly in the helmet (and not the face as Laperriere). Every game in the series, Mike has had some sort of impact, the guy we look to set an example.”
Grier turned the spotlight back to Miller, Ennis and his centre, Paul Gaustad, who won a faceoff against Bergeron to tee it up for the back-breaking third goal that had eluded the Sabres in a series they’ve led almost exclusively for 17 periods.
“A perfect draw by Goose.” Grier said. “He told me before, I think I can win it here and he set it on a platter for me.
“We laid it out tonight. We didn’t want to come back in here (having lost) and second-guessing and saying ‘what if’. It was a good effort, but now we have to find a way to win in their building.”