Niagara Gazette — The Buffalo Sabres' Season from Hell plunged further into the abyss Wednesday night with another embarrassing loss, this time at home to the hated Boston Bruins in a nationally-televised game promoted as part of NBC Sports Network's Wednesday Night Rivalry series.
An uncharacteristically watchable first period from the 1-9-1 Sabres gave way to a predictably sloppy second, but Buffalo somehow found itself trailing by just one heading into the third. More uninspired play allowed the Bruins to score and essentially clinch the win early in the period, but the game's defining play came well after the outcome was already decided.
With 14:11 left in regulation, Buffalo enforcer John Scott went out of his way to run over Boston's Loui Eriksson, a four-time 25-goal scorer acquired in the offseason. Scott's hit was far from historic in terms of NHL brutality, but it was late and high, and that it came from a "goon" seems to for some reason make it worse in the eyes of observers.
A close comparison would be Chris Neil's late hit on Chris Drury that incited the infamous line brawl/goalie fight between the Sabres and the Ottawa Senators on February 22, 2007. After Drury released a pass, Neil went out of his way to line up the Sabres' captain, hit him high and left a bloody mass lying on the ice.
If Neil's hit was a '10' on the Cheap Shot Scale, Scott's probably falls somewhere around an eight. It wasn't as late, and while it was high, most of that is due to Scott standing 6-foot-8 and Eriksson 6-foot-2.
Eriksson had to be helped off the ice and stayed in Buffalo overnight for "precautionary reasons," according to Boston coach Claude Julien. While his condition is unsure, Scott will have an in-person hearing with NHL player safety czar Brendan Shanahan, a necessary step under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement taken when the league wants to suspend a player for more than five games.
The irony of the story is that Scott was signed by Buffalo following the 2011 season specifically to combat the big, bad Bruins following Milan Lucic's trampling of Ryan Miller. While it doesn't excuse Scott's actions by any means, the two are directly related. If Lucic doesn't run Miller, Scott likely isn't in Buffalo, and Wednesday's hit doesn't happen.
NBCSN used the Lucic hit as a key storyline to promote the game. The network ran a "NHL Rivals" special Tuesday night highlighting the history between Buffalo and Boston, using clips of big hits and fights to establish the bad blood between the two teams. It even played a clip of Scott knocking out Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton in what equated to a "Buffalo strikes back" segment. But when Scott hit Eriksson, the network's analysts turned heel, led by Mike Milbury — a former player who once beat a fan with a shoe during his time with (You guessed it!) the Bruins.
Milbury tore into Scott and Sabres coach Ron Rolston during the post game, going as far as to say both should be out of the league. That's been the NHL's modus operandi for the past few seasons — flaunt the physical side of the game to attract viewers, allow fighting and encourage the tough-guy persona, then act appalled when a player crosses a very abstract line, so long as that player is someone casual fans won't miss.
Lucic didn't get suspended for hitting Miller, despite it being one of the most blatant goaltender cheap shots in recent memory. Toronto's Phil Kessel only got three preseason games after violently slashing Scott this preseason. Alexander Ovechkin was only suspended for three games following a high, late hit in 2012 that was similar to Scott's, only Ovechkin left his feet to deliver the blow.
But those players are stars. They're valuable to the league because of their marketability and they aren't "three-minute guys," which is how Julien described Scott. Somehow, their value to their teams and to the league makes their actions less severe.
The NHL is punishing context rather than the actual plays. If it were Scott swinging his stick wildly at Kessel, you can bet he'd have gotten a monumental suspension. If it were Ovechkin laying the hit on Eriksson, he might get suspended because of his prior record, but it still would equate to a slap on the wrist compared to what Scott is likely to get.
Scott has no prior record, but his status as an enforcer means he'll likely face a higher penalty. Colorado's Cody McLeod and St. Louis' Max Lapierre sent opponents off on stretchers this week, and both received five-game suspensions.
You can bet Scott clears that pretty easily as the league uses this as an opportunity to save face by coming down hard on a player who ultimately doesn't matter much to ratings. But when you see clips of Scott's hit as part of the inevitable "revenge" narrative used to promote the next Buffalo-Boston meeting, don't forget who's responsible.
Respond to Niagara Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.