BUFFALO — Conjuring memories of playoff series between the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins from decades past, Thursday’s Game 1 was filled with chippy play as the hosts took a 1-0 series lead at HSBC Arena.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff attempted to set the tone by starting the physical line of Mike Grier, Adam Mair and Paul Gaustad, and things escalated throughout the first period.
Boston giant Zdeno Chara got tangled with Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek and the latter got slammed to the ice, but no call came from the officials. Also in the first period, a melee broke out after Chara cross-checked Patrick Kaleta behind the Boston net. Toni Lydman, Steve Montador and Raffi Torres all collected penalties in the scrum while Chara and Milan Lucic were each tagged with double minors. Kaleta received a 10-minute misconduct.
“That was high intensity,” Lindy Ruff said. “We expected intensity. Somebody mentioned they felt a little friction even before the series started. I think we got a little bit there early.”
Boston coach Claude Julien insisted that Kaleta did not get under the skin of Chara,
“It’s going to take more than (Kaleta),” Julien said. “This is Zdeno’s third playoffs with me and every year they go after him. I don’t think he’s going to be wasting his time with somebody who just sees a little bit of ice.”
The Sabres were clearly lucky to get out of the second period with the lead, considering that the hosts got outshot 24-8 in the stanza. It marked the most shots allowed in a period of a playoff game since Buffalo watched Chicago do the same on April 20, 1980. The Sabres went on to win that game, 3-2, to complete a sweep of the second-round series between the two teams.
But Buffalo finished the regular season with the best record after taking a lead into the second intermission, winning all 30 times when they did so and the trend continued in the opening playoff game.
“I think we just do what it takes. We played a pretty smart period,” Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. “For our group of guys to come out of that second period and come out with every adjustment we could make was great.”
Give rookie Tim Kennedy credit, after a number of sloppy plays in the second period, he helped the Sabres regain the lead when he made a nifty move at the Bruins blue line, tossing a soft pass to Craig Rivet that the captain drilled in to the top left corner, giving the hosts the 2-1 edge.
For Kennedy, it was his first playoff point in his NHL first playoff game. He finished with more than 21 minutes of ice time and was a plus-2.
“I thought Tim Kennedy did a great job holding onto the puck, drawing some guys over,” Miller said of the play. “That gave Craig a little room to walk into one.”
Boston assistant coach Craig Ramsay wasn’t at the game, as a bout with the flu sent the longtime Sabres star to Buffalo General Hospital on Thursday.
The Bruins moved assistant Doug Houda, who also spent parts of three different seasons as a Sabre, down from his customary spot in the press box to take Ramsay’s place.
“He’s doing better,” Julien said of Ramsay. “There’s probably a good chance we’ll see him back here (today). It’s unfortunate, we missed him. He’s a great contributor to our team. He brings that experience.”