While the age of lawsuits and heavy NHL fines has dulled the tough talk leading into hockey games that are expected to be nasty, the feeling in the Bruins dressing room was that someone will try to set the tone with physical play when Boston hosts the Sabres Thursday night.
We know theyre a deeper and tougher team, said Tyler Seguin. I have the most confidence in our team with Milan Lucic and toughness. I dont think well have a problem with that.
It's the first matchup of the year between the Bruins and Sabres. The tone for last season's matchups was set when Milan Lucic dumped Ryan Miller to the ice with a bulldozer hit and then the Bruins took care of their business without even a whimper of protest from Buffalo.
That incident really inflicted damage on the Sabres psyche, which likely didnt even start to heal until after Paul Gaustad dropped the gloves with Lucic in their next meeting at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo. But after the season, there were still whispers that the Sabres didnt have the proper heart or courage needed to be an elite hockey team. Without those things, they would continue to be perpetual divisional doormats for the Bruins.
Its difficult to stand toe-to-toe with the schoolyard bully when a team has a roster full of skilled munchkins like Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe, or flopping, agitating rats like Patrick Kaleta (who wont play against the Bruins after sustaining a sprained neck against the Maple Leafs that landed him in the hospital). But the Sabres addressed their need for toughness in the offseason by signing 6-foor-8, 260-pound enforcer John Scott and trading for noted Bruins harasser Steve Ott. Both will be in the lineup for the Sabres on Thursday night for what's expected to be an Adams Division-style bloodbath.
Scott has been itching for a fight with Bs enforcer Shawn Thornton for the last two years after some harsh words were exchanged between them when the behemoth was a member of the Blackhawks organization. But there may also be a target still planted on the back of Lucic after trucking Miller so Scott might just go looking for vengeance there.
Perhaps it becomes a situation where 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara finally feels like somebody in his weight and height class is ready for the 'Z' Challenge -- something that many have tried and failed in the past.
Im sure itll be a hard-fought game," said Bruins forward Chris Kelly. "We always have good games with them. They always come out hard and we need to do the same. Theyve added a few guys and in the right time and place they have those guys that will fight a little bit more. Last year was last year. After what happened in the next game Lucic did what he had to do with Gaustad and thats over.
By no means are we thinking about that. This is a good hockey team in Buffalo and when its a shortened season youre playing these teams a lot of times. So the two points are the thing. I dont think theyre going to jeopardize trying to get the two points by doing something foolish.
With all of this circling as the back story, the Bruins are suiting up for battle just in case the fight comes to them. Chris Bourque will be a healthy scratch after going scoreless in his first six games with the Bruins, and 6-foot-3, 209-pound AHL enforcer Lane MacDermid will suit up for the Black and Gold.
The 23-year-old MacDermid had five points (2 goals, 3 assists) and seven fighting majors in 32 games with the P-Bruins this season, and racked up 14 fights between the AHL and NHL last season.
MacDermid made his debut with the Bruins last season at Madison Square Garden and fought Mike Rupp on his very first shift of the game. Hes also dutifully watched and waited as a healthy scratch for the first six games of this season while waiting for his chance to play. So it goes without saying that he should be ready to go when the call goes out to the Bruins fourth line tonight to bring some energy and perhaps match the aggressiveness Buffalo throws on the ice.
MacDermid has got to play a little bit, said Julien. Were going to sit Bourque out tonight. I had a good talk with Chris this morning. I think hes putting a lot of pressure on himself right now and is certainly not the Chris that we know.
With the past history in mind is Julien expecting the Sabres to come out with a glove-dropping, punch-throwing point to make tonight?
Youll have to ask Buffalo that question, said Julien. Youre asking the wrong coach."
So, Lindy Ruff?
"We added Ott and Scott for added team toughness and to make us an overall grittier team," the Sabres coach said. "It had absolutely nothing to do with the Bruins. You try to win the puck battles and territorial battles. We have to win a game. In a short season we need points. We dealt with it last year where Gaustad fought Lucic and where Robyn Regehr fought Chara. We played a couple of great games and took away points. Hockey is about winning the physical battle and winning the mental battle. We're here to get the points."
Whatever's being said, the answers will be obvious when the Bruins and Sabres drop the puck for a game that might just live up to the hype fueled by hard feelings.