BUFFALO, N.Y. – Lindy Ruff wasn’t in the mood Saturday to instigate a debate over what the NHL deems to be an instigator penalty.
The Buffalo Sabres coach will leave that definition to the league after it rescinded a one-game suspension to Zdeno Chara. It’s a ruling that allows the Bruins captain to play in Game 6 of the best-of-seven first-round playoff series at Boston on Monday.
Ruff was far more open to discussing how buoyed he was a day after Buffalo avoided elimination by rebounding from three straight losses with a dominating 4-1 victory that cut Boston’s series lead to 3-2.
“I think the hope tank just got filled up again,” Ruff said, after holding a brief team meeting to give his players a day off from practice during a two-day break between games. “We hope our hope tank went up, and we’re hoping that we could raise the level of the doubt tank on the other side.”
As difficult as it might be to gauge the levels of hope and doubt in a tightly contested series between Northeast Division rivals, it’s become evident that the Sabres have gotten under the skin of Chara, after how the Bruins leader unravelled in the final seconds of Friday’s game.
Chara erupted with a flurry of punches?sparking an 11-player skirmish that included Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller?in response to being slashed across the back of his left skate by Sabres forward Paul Gaustad.
Officials issued Chara an instigator penalty, which under league rules results in an automatic one-game suspension because it occurred in the final five minutes of a game. Chara got off the hook after the league reviewed what happened.
“The league’s interpretation is what it is,” Ruff said. “It really doesn’t matter what I think.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien said common sense prevailed.
“To be honest with you, I wasn’t even worried because I couldn’t see that happening,” Julien said, referring to Chara being suspended. “It’s just common sense.
“The league looked at it and they felt that he didn’t deserve it and took care of it.”
Now the question is whether the sixth-seeded Bruins can finally take care of the division-champion Sabres in a series in which Boston has already won twice at home?
“It’s a must-win, just like Friday was,” said Julien, who also gave his players the day off from practice. “We probably didn’t play our best hockey, obviously. And so it’s up to us to bounce back.”
The Bruins came out flat Friday, allowing the Sabres to score less than two minutes in and build a 3-0 lead through two periods, during which the Bruins were outshot 26-14. Buffalo proved to be the more desperate team by out-hitting the Bruins 35-25 and earning a big edge in forced takeaways, 9-2, and blocked shots 26-9.
“Monday will be a huge game for us,” defenceman Matt Hunwick said. “I think we’ll be focused and determined.
“And I think we’ll come out with a lot more jump.”
The Bruins have been slow-starters throughout the series, having allowed Buffalo to score the opening goal in each of the five games. Boston, though, has the edge, because of its ability to rally back, having twice snuffed out two-goal deficits.
In what might be the most curious statistic, the Bruins have only held a lead over Buffalo for 19 minutes 40 seconds of the series. That includes a 3-2 double-overtime victory in Game 4, during which Boston never led until Miroslav Satan’s decisive goal.
The Sabres, by comparison, have held a lead over a stretch spanning 178:03.
“There’s some games we’d like to have back, some situations that we’d love to have back. We can’t have them back,” Sabres captain Craig Rivet said. “What we’re going to continue to do is try to get better as a team.”
The Sabres are holding out hope that forward Thomas Vanek could be ready to return after missing three-plus games with an injury to his left foot. Buffalo’s scoring leader practised at a suburban rink Saturday with a group of Sabres minor-league callups.
Ruff said he wouldn’t have an update until the team returns to practice Sunday.
Bruins star forward Marc Savard also continued to skate Saturday, but still hasn’t been cleared to play. Savard has been out since sustaining a Grade 2 concussion March 7 on a blindside hit by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke.