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Sabres Central

Will Sabres extract Frontier Justice in Ottawa?

By Rick Anderson
February 24, 2007

It is still the hottest topic in town. The Sabres-Senators game on Thursday will go down as one of the wildest and most exciting games in Sabres history. It had everything from highlight reel scoring plays, 2-goal comebacks by both teams, a wild overtime and a shootout. The Sabres beat the Sens in dramatic fashion when rookie Drew Stafford was the only player to score in the shootout, giving the Sabres a 6-5 win.

The goal and the great victory were almost afterthoughts in comparison to what happened in the second period that will go down in the annuals of Sabres history. The Sabres, with 6 players already out with injury, took a 3-2 lead and suddenly there was a pall in the arena as one of their top stars lay bleeding on the ice from a vicious hit.

It was a scene from back in the mid 70s. The Ottawa Senators, intent on inflicting another injury to the Sabres, targeted one of their two stars, Chris Drury. In a late, blind side hit, Chris Neal clearly left his skates and targeted Drury's head with a shoulder and sent Drury flying. The blatant hit to the head left Drury with a gash to the forehead that took over 20 stitches and Drury is now the 7th Sabre in 6 games to be knocked out.

As predicted before the game by this writer, the Senators were going to go headhunting. And that they did!

In the playoffs last season, the Senators targeted Tim Connolly and Peter Schaefer delivered the hit that knocked out Connolly not only for the playoffs, but for this entire season. Now, with the Sabres already down 6 more players besides Connolly, their goal was obvious. Take out as many more Sabres as possible.

Neal targeted Drury after he took a shot on goal. Take a stop watch out and it was clearly 4 seconds after the shot was taken. Neal bends his knees, and leaps 4 inches off the ice to deliver a knock out hit to Drury's head.

There laid Drury, unconscious on the ice in a pool of blood. Drew Stafford immediately went after Neal for his assault that went unpunished! After that fight, Stafford and Neal got 5 minutes for fighting, but Neal got nothing for his illegal late hit. That was enough for Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. He stood on the bench and could not believe that Neal was getting away with murder.

Ruff had enough! If the officials were not going to protect the Sabres players from an obvious intent to injure, he would use a little frontier justice. You could clearly hear the message being shouted loud and clear throughout HSBC Arena: "You take out our stars, and we'll take out yours!"

Frontier Justice

Ruff sent out the goon squad: Andrew Peters, Adam Mair and Patrick Kaleta against the Senators Stars of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, and Daniel Alfredsson. The Sabres out on the ice immediately wanted to get vengeance for taking out Drury. A wild brawl resulted in Mair taking on Spezza and then the goalies took center ice in the three ring circus. Ray Emery, a former Golden Gloves boxer, was beating Martin Biron to a pulp when Peters came to his rescue. The whole wild scene on the ice then went behind the benches when Ruff went over the glass and was going after Senators coach Brian Murray when he slipped and fell. Ruff picked himself up and the war of words and angry gestures continued for another 5 minutes. It took about 15 minutes to calm the sides and send the numerous players to the penalty box.

"You can't respond any other way," Lindy Ruff defended his employment of his Energy Line. "I was so proud of those guys.

"It's a dirty shot while the player was vulnerable, and he didn't have the puck anymore, and it was seconds late."

The Senators ended up with a 2 man advantage and finally scored to tie it up 3-3.

This game has to go down as one of the classic Sabres games in history. Being down 7 players already and now having their co-captain Drury knocked out of the game, the Sabres fought off the Sens (who didn't have one player injured going into the game) with 8 rookies in the lineup. The Sabres and Sens went into overtime and then a shootout. Stafford was the only player to score in the shootout and the Sabres went away with a courageous 6-5 win over the Sens.

The war of words continued after the game as the two coaches argued over whether the hit by Neal was clean or not. The war between the Sabres and Sens continues on Saturday as they conclude their mini series on Saturday in Ottawa.

"It was a predator-type of hit where Chris was vulnerable," said Ruff a day later. "Neil went out of his way to deliver a blow to Chris' head. Nothing has changed for me. It was a deliberate attempt to put somebody out. At that time of the game, we had taken momentum. He came out to try to get some of that momentum back."

Murray has his own, and opposite opinion of the hit.

"I saw it live and didn't understand what he was complaining about, then I went in and checked to make sure I saw it right," Murray retorted. "He kept telling me he elbowed him in the head. The elbow was tied down to his side. It's maddening, and I'm disappointed they did that."

"I've listened to Lindy cry on TV so many times," continued Murray. "I'm not going to believe him anymore. I thought it was a good bodycheck. Then he sends out his guys to sucker punch our guys. That was uncalled for."

Get ready for round two!

No, this isn't the second round of the playoffs, even if it definitely has that feel to it.

The Sabres and Senators, who have had some emotional, if not vicious games recently in their season series, play their last regular season game against each other Saturday night. It was Thursday Night Fights in Buffalo the other night. Now it could be the Canadian Revolt in Ottawa Saturday.

What will be awaiting the injury-depleted Sabres when they skate on the ice Saturday night at ScotiaBank Place in Ottawa. Will it be like the Christians entering the lions den in Roman times, going to their slaughter?

From all indications, Senators coach Bryan Murray has all intentions of getting some sort of vengeance against the Sabres for Lindy Ruff "sending out the goons" to go after his stars Thursday. The scene at HSBC Arena on Thursday night, after Chris Neal deliberately went head hunting on Sabres captain Chris Drury was a page out of hockey's bloody past. Images of the Broad Street Bullies battling the Big Bad Boston Bruins comes to mind.

With the opposing goalies duking it out, with the coaches climbing over the glass partitions to get at each other were definitely scenes more appropriate for the movie Slapshot than the NHL new style hockey of 2007.

With Drury out with a concussion for at least a week, the Sabres must go deeper into their well called the Rochester Americans to bring up yet another rookie to replace their captain. It isn't going to be

easy and with the Senators out to get revenge tonight, the NHL league officials and referees will have to be on their toes to prevent further violence in Ottawa.

Enough is enough

The NHL, trying to improve it's image and promote the "new game" still lives in the caveman age of thuggery. It still allows hits to the head as being part of the game. The NFL at least has one thing right when it gives strict penalties to players who hit other players in the head, especially helmet to helmet hits.

If the NHL wants to clean up its image and enter the 21st Century, they can start with outlawing hits to the head. Yea, I have heard the arguments that it will be a discretion call at times, but that'swhere the league can rule in a day or so by handing out suspensions after carefully reviewing all tapes of the hits.

Scott Stevens is the player I always bring up when I talk about the need to crack down on headhunting. Stevens was the professional assassin. He would time his hits perfectly, and stay within the rules

of the NHL while he kept on sending other teams stars to the hospital with nasty concussions. This occurred mainly in the playoffs when the games were more crucial. Stevens would put a shoulder or sometimes a hidden elbow and time his hit exactly the perfect time. When the star player went down in the pool of blood, everyone was applauding Stevens for his hard, but "clean" hit.

If the NHL wants to protect its stars from being has-beens, then it better do like the NFL has done and have a serious crackdown on all hits to the head. If it is deemed that a hit was not intentional,

that it was in the heat of the play, then the league can rule in favor of the player who delivered the hit.

The Ottawa Senators are taking a page out of Scott Stevens Legal Thuggery notebook. Last year, Peter Schaefer took out Tim Connolly with a "perfectly legal and clean hit" that may have ended Connolly's career. Thursday night, it was Chris Neal that did the best Scott Stevens imitation when he went out of his way to deliver a late KO hit on Chris Drury seconds after he shot the puck on net. Drury had to leave the ice with a 20-stitch gash on his forehead and will be out at least a week with a concussion.

It was only fitting that Stevens' career ended from a concussion. What went around finally came around for Stevens. Now, will the same happen to the Ottawa Senators, who don't have one player injured while the Sabres have 8 on the shelf. Things do have a way of turning around and the Sens better count their blessings that they haven't had any teams headhunt their top players like Spezza, Heatley or Alfredsson. Their time may be coming.

Live by the sword

The old saying is ... "Those that live by the sword, die by the sword." The Sabres will attempt to live up to their name and stick it to the Senators in the final meeting of the series. The Sens claim their hits on Tim Connolly and Drury were clean and legal, but they would be crying foul if it happened to their stars Spezza, Heatley or Alfredsson. The Sabres may have some of their own "clean hits" up their sleeves for the rematch.

Stay tuned...

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