The Maple Leafs could be eliminated by the weekend, but it looks like their April 16 game in Buffalo will have plenty of meaning for Darcy Tucker.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was thwarted in his vocal campaign to have the Toronto winger suspended for what he called a knee-on-knee cheap shot Monday night, that will knock forward Jochen Hecht out of the Sabres lineup for two weeks with a sprained left knee.
Though National Hockey League executive vice-president Colin Campbell did slap Nashville Predators defenceman Brendan Witt with a one-game suspension yesterday for a knee incident on Columbus winger David Vyborny the night before, Tucker was excused. He and Hecht crossed knees, but it appeared Tucker was more intent on delivering a hit to the head area.
Ruff stormed out of a press scrum after Monday's 3-2 shootout win over the Leafs, calling it "a joke" that Tucker wound up drawing a Hecht high-sticking penalty on the same shift as the knee injury occurred. Ruff had vowed to call the league "10 times" yesterday to seek a suspension.
"That really bothers me," Ruff told reporters yesterday after Sabres practice. "They agreed that his elbow grazed the head, and to me, that's a shot to the head. When you're going after somebody's head, you've got intent to hurt. Don't tell me the knee is accidental after that. He knew exactly what he was doing, and should pay a price for it."
Tucker denied intent to injure, but saved his sharpest comments yesterday for the media, upset at the coverage Ruff's remarks had received. It was the first chance to get a response from Tucker who had already spoken to reporters when Ruff sounded off on Monday.
"You guys are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill," Tucker said. "It was a nothing play. It's one guy's comments this is exactly the reaction he wanted, you guys to come in here and make it a big deal."
Tucker thought there was enough video evidence that he hadn't plotted to hurt Hecht.
"A play like that happens 35 times in a season. (Ruff) can call the league 100 times if he wants."
Tucker drew Buffalo enforcer Andrew Peters into a roughing penalty earlier in the game and when Hecht was called for high-sticking him on the third-period exchange, Tucker looked at Hecht and pointed derisively to the brain. Peters and/or other Sabres likely will not be in a forgive-and-forget mood a week Sunday at HSBC Arena.
"I'll be wearing 16, I'll show up and I'll play the game," Tucker said when asked about possible retribution. "I just play the game as hard as I can every night. That's the way I am.
"You didn't hear me complain or cry when Alexei Kovalev elbowed me in the head (a week ago Saturday in Montreal). It's part of hockey.
Leafs coach Pat Quinn called the whole matter "a non-event".
"Darcy doesn't head hunt or anything else," Quinn said. "I don't see the cheapness in his play. He has always played hard. If they're going to call knees, they should've called (Adam) Mair on Kyle Wellwood in the second period (Mair was given a minor). That was blatant. That kind of (style on Monday night) was a give and take game. Heaven knows people have gone after Darcy that way."