Niagara Gazette

April 25, 2006

Tough talk subsides before Game 3

Hitcock, Ruff backtrack after Monday's trash talking

By Tim Schmitt

When he came into a hallway near the visitors dressing room at HSBC Arena on April 7, Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock had the giddy look of a guy who’d dined and dashed.

His team had just beaten Buffalo 4-2, giving the Flyers their first win over the Sabres this season. He giggled and said the key was surviving an early flurry.

“I always worry about the first five minutes in this building,” he said. “Always.”

Hitchcock’s words seem prophetic after witnessing Game 2 of his team’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal against Buffalo. Not to mention printable.

The Sabres dominated visiting Philadelphia, scoring five goals in the first period en route to an 8-2 victory and a commanding lead in the best-of-seven series.

And Hitchcock’s post-game press conference had a decidedly different tone than the one on April 7. He was angry that Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said the Flyers played like “idiots” after the hosts got a big lead. And while leaving, Hitchcock dropped a pair of expletives, possibly in hopes of kickstarting his floundering team.

But the two kissed and made nice on Tuesday, with Game 3 in Philly’s Wachovia set for tonight (7 p.m., MSG).

“I apologize for using that word,” Hitchcock said. “It shouldn’t have happened.”

Ruff also backed off his comments.

“I’ve got to focus on my team and how I want them to play and that’s where it’s all going to lie,” Ruff said. “I was emotional, he was emotional. I’m over it.”

While Ruff is done thinking about Monday’s post-game circus, he must relish in the memories of the on-ice events. The Sabres have consistently proven to be the better team in the series, dominating the Flyers in shots in Game 1, and in goals in Game 2.

In each game, Buffalo has gotten off to a quick start.

“I think we’re mentally prepared for these games. It’s crazy to say you have to get mentally prepared for a playoff game, but it’s true. Everyone wants to go out and make a difference,” Derek Roy said. “We played at home and got some great support from our fans. Going on the road I’m sure it’s going to be a different story. Their building’s going to be very loud. It’s not going to be easy.”

Although the Sabres had their way with Flyers’ goalie Robert Esche in Game 2, Hitchcock said Tuesday he’s staying with him.

Roy isn’t surprised, even though he and the netminder got tangled up in the first period of Monday’s game.

“He’s a good goalie. We had a couple of really nice goals that weren't his fault,” Roy said. “Forsberg came and took a cheap shot after the whistle and I wanted him to know. And (Esche) came off the bench and threw a blocker at me.”

The Sabres might have to face R.J. Umberger — the rookie who was rocked by Brian Campbell’s hit in overtime of Game 1 — in tonight’s contest.

Umberger, who scored 20 goals during the regular season and was a key player down the stretch, will see a doctor in the morning and could be cleared to play.

But Hitchcock ruled out the rumored return of captain Keith Primeau, who hasn’t played since October because of a concussion. Primeau has been practicing with the team and made the trip to Buffalo.

“He’s a man trying to help our hockey club,” Hitchcock said. “I admire that so much, what he’s trying to do, but we have to make sure that there’s long-term health here, too.”

Contact Tim Schmitt at (716) 282-2311, Ext. 2266. The Associated Press contributed to this report.