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Sabres Central

Sabres blistered in Savage game
By Rick Anderson
October 27, 2001

Go back in time 25 years. The National Hockey League back in 1974-77 was dominated by the Broad Street Bullies and other teams that tried to imitate the aggressive style of the Philadelphia Flyers back then. That style of hockey suddenly reemerged Friday night in Buffalo's HSBC Arena as the Buffalo Sabres and the Montreal Canadiens played an old fashioned slugfest of a hockey game. The Canadiens thumped the Sabres 5-2 in a game that should have been billed "Friday night Fights." This was a savage game and the Canadiens Brian Savage did his part in scoring the Habs first three goals.

Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore is the second goalie in a week to go down in the first period in a game involving the Sabres.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

Doug Gilmour returned home to the city he played the last two years. He made his presence known early and created a huge controversy in doing so. Gilmour wanted to dish out retribution to the Sabres for their treatment of him last season and also had a grievance against their management for apparently preventing him from latching onto the Ottawa Senators during the offseason. Add to that Gilmour's insistence that the Sabres deliberately took out Habs starting goalie Jeff Hackett in last week's contest between the Sabres and the Canadiens, and you had the recipe for disaster.

With the Sabres leading the Canadiens 1-0 in the first period on Rob Ray's first goal of the season, the Sabres tried to make that 2-0 when Vaclav Varada broke down the left side all alone and Montreal goalie Jose Theodore came all the way out to above the left faceoff circle in an attempt to beat Varada to the puck. Theodore slid on his stomach and Varada took his eyes off the puck to avoid colliding with Theodore. Varada bent his knees and tried to jump over the sprawled goalie, but as he leaped over, his knee connected with Theodore's head, giving him a concussion. Varada landed in a crash against the boards and when he got up, he was greeted by a hot-headed bull named Gilmour. Gilmour stuck out his right knee for a good second before finally connected with Varada's knee, taking him out like a henchman on ice. Varada went down grimacing in pain and both he and Theodore lay on the ice for minutes as the crowd of 17,493 awarded Gilmour with a chorus of unmerciful boos for his hitman tactics.

Gilmour defended his tactics as standing up for a fallen teammate.

"Obviously, you go down racing for a puck with the goaltender, you gotta pokecheck the puck. You don't just jump on his head," the former Sabre said. "You see the knee. I came down. Obviously, you saw what happened. This league is supposed to protect the goaltenders, first and foremost. We lost one of our goalies, they took another one out tonight. We're a family here, you don't do that. That's not part of hockey. I did what thought I had to do. What happened out there was wrong. What I did might have been wrong, but it was something I had to do. Don't look at me for starting this. I didn't start this."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was up in arms over what he described as a very flagrant hit.

"I talked to him after, and he felt that he was trying to avoid injuring himself by going over the top of him," said Ruff in defense of Varada. "He thought that if he kept going straight he would have gone head first into the wall. If he wanted to hurt him he could have just dove right into him. I think you have to stick up for your teammates and obviously (Gilmour) should be suspended for what he did. It was blatant knee to Varada's knee."

The league was well aware of the situation and will probably dish out suspensions for both Varada and Gilmour next week.

Habs come fighting back

The Canadiens used the hit on Theodore as a rallying cry. Since they were under the assumption that the Sabres had intentionally taken out both of their starting goalies in the first periods of the last two game, they were in an obvious foul mood. It showed and the Sabres were ill-prepared for the onslaught the Habs gave them.

Ray, who scored the opening goal when he tallied off a rebound of a shot taken by Erik Rasmussen.

"I think after all that settled down (the skirmish after the Varada and Gilmour hits), we just sat back a little bit too much," Ray analyzed. "We thought it was going to be a much easier game than it was."

The Sabres' Curtis Brown attempts to score on the Canadiens while defenseman Stephane Robidas tries to ride Brown out of the play.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

The described how the Sabres blew two 1-goal leads in the game and allowed the Canadiens to rough them up in their own building.

Savage, who is hailed as Mr. October of hockey, scored a natural hat trick for the Habs as he scored Montreal's first three goals, including the game winner. After Jason Woolley gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead in the second period, Savage tied it up when he popped the puck over Sabres goalie Martin Biron while the Habs were on a powerplay. That turned out to be Biron's Achilles heel, a shot high over his shoulder. The Canadiens did it all night, scoring 5 on Biron as he allowed the most goals in one game all season.

"It was definitely a character game for us," said Savage after the game. "Having Jose go down, I think everybody was ticked off."

After Savage scored the game winner 12:26 of the third stanza, another ex-Sabre, Joe Juneau, decided to test the zone above Biron's shoulders as he got one over Biron's left shoulder to make it 4-2. The Habs were not done yet. Richard Zednik added salt to the Sabres wounds as he notched the Habs fifth goal of the game, and third of the period, to ice it and send the Sabres back into the locker room, thinking about the next time they meet up with their incensed rivals.

Garon out-duels Biron

When the Canadiens saw their second goalie go down in less than a week at the apparent hands of the Sabres, they were hesitant to throw third-string goalie Mathieu Garon to the wolves. What would happen if he went down? Garon, not only was up to the challenge, but was the game's No. 1 star as he made 26 saves and played brilliantly in his first game this season. Rated as the Habs top goalie prospect, he may have played himself onto the roster with his performance against the Sabres. Buffalo peppered him with shots and only Woolley was able to get one past him. He was definitely the difference in this game.

"It was tough to come in like that, and they put a lot of pressure on me," Garon said. "They always had a guy in front of me in that third period, but I got a lot of help from the defense."

Meanwhile, Biron was having trouble stopping shots that were labeled for the top shelf and may even be relieved by Sabres backup Bob Essensa Saturday night when the Sabres travel to New Jersey. Biron stopped 22 of 27 shots and was not as sharp as Garon.

Sabres Talk

While Buffalo was awash with Doug Flutie talk all week, another Doug, Doug Gilmour came into Buffalo and left in a swirl of controversy. Gilmour, as you recall, left the Sabres in a huff after they were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring, saying he had played his last game with the Sabres. Then he tore into Empire Sports Hockey Hotline for their "biased" views they voiced all season.

This week, Gilmour was adamant about how the Sabres "intentionally" injured Jeff Hackett when J.P. Dumont was close to the Habs goalie when he separated his shoulder. Ruff had qualms about Gilmour's biased attitude. He also had verbal battle with the Canadiens coach, Michel Therrien, right after the Gilmour hit.

Therrien and Ruff both stood up on their benches and made inflammatory gestures towards each other. Therrien showed Ruff two fingers, indicating his two injured goalies at the hands of Buffalo.

"That's two! That's two!" screamed Therrien at Ruff, slamming the glass that separated the two coaches..

"Sit down before you make a fool out of yourself,'' Ruff shouted back at the enraged Habs coach. "He said, "That's the second goalie you got,' " Ruff recalled. "We didn't get the first goalie. Even Hackett admitted it was an innocent play, so let it go. Don't make something out of nothing."

The verbal war between the two coaches and teams continued well after the game.

"I've been in this game for a very long time," Therrien fumed, "and it was one of the cheapest shots I've seen. When the goalie's going out from his net he's got no protection. When a guy's coming up with his knee like that, to his head, it's unacceptable."

Ruff had his own view of the play.

"Vaclav was just trying to avoid injury by going over top of him," said Ruff. "It's obvious, I watched the tape, if he wanted to hurt (Theodore) he could have dove right on the ice and pretty well annihilate him."

Dumont contended that he did not injure Hackett last Saturday.

"That's the kind of guy (Gilmour) is," Dumont said. "He's an agitator, and when he's on the ice he wants to create stuff, especially against us."

Savage talked about the motivation the Habs got after seeing Theodore go down.

"What happened out there pissed us off, and it will be tough losing Dougie if he's suspended," said Savage. "But he gave us a lift. He's one of the smallest guys out there, but he stood up for his teammate."

Gilmour added his two cents, for whatever they're worth.

"Are you kidding me? Look at what they did," Gilmour retorted. "(I'm) very proud. We lost one of our goalies last week and they took another one out today. We're a family here, and you don't do that."

So one week with the Canadiens and suddenly Gilmour is a part of the Habs family?

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