Sunday, February 25, 2007

L is for...

...Lindy Ruff.

The NHL fined Sabres' head coach Ruff $10,000 for his role in Thursday night's slugfest in Bufffalo between the Sabres and Ottawa Senators. Ruff is charged with sending his more physical players onto the ice with the intention of roughing up the Sens in return for the cheap elbow/shoulder hit on Sabres' Chris Drury that sent him to the sidelines indefinitely with concussive symptoms, 20 stitches, and a swollen right eye.

The faceoff following the Drury hit erupted into the most bizarre battle I can recall watching. Sabre rookie Pat Kaleta, a Western NY native playing in his first NHL game ever, was among the enforcers. The mess eventually involved every player on the ice for both teams, with the highlight being the sight of the two goalies skating away from their creases and toward each other, knocking off their own masks and gloves before throwing punches. Ray Emery, the Sens' goaltender who formerly had Mike Tyson painted on his helmet and is a noted boxing buff, clearly enjoyed his first game back from a three-game suspension for another fight; the ear-to-ear grin on his face never vanished as he easily fought wiry-framed Sabres' goalie Martin Biron to the ice. Emery's smile remained as he was attacked by Sabre Andrew Peters in a move that violated that unwritten rule of hockey: never fight the goalie. Lindy Ruff proceeded to climb over to the box that separates the two team benches and start a yelling and finger-pointing match with Senators' coach Bryan Murray, a former colleague. By the end of the madness, over 100 penalty minutes were divided between the teams and three players were handed game misconducts, including the two goalies. The game ended with an exciting 6-5 shootout victory for the Sabres; it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Thursday's game created mad anticipation for the final season matchup for the two teams yesterday in Ottawa. The Sens won this time, 6-5, though the Sabres fought back from a 3-goal deficit to tie the game 5-5 in the third period. Watching the game yesterday, one can't help but agree with this comment. The injury to Drury, Sabre co-captain and team-leading scorer, will undoubtedly be the one with the strongest impact; Drury is arguably the most valuable player to the Sabres and, perhaps, to the league. The Sabres are still playing like the league-leading team that they are, although the current roster contains just a fraction of the players that started out the season. Now with eight players out of the lineup, Ruff is truly working some magic with these rookies, many of whom are playing in their first NHL games. Ruff was NHL coach of the year last season when he brought a team full of rookies to the Eastern conference finals; let's see if he can repeat that honor while leading them to the Stanley cup finals.

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