Kanata, ONTARIO (LGS) — The stage is set as the Buffalo Sabres (41-15-5) travel to the ScotiaBank Place in Kanata to face the Ottawa Senators (35-22-4) in the eighth — and final — matc-up of the season tonight at 7 p.m. (MSG-TV/WGR-AM).
This game, the second of a home-and-home set, is getting international attention after Thursday's dramatic and fight-filled first round.
Rookie Drew Stafford scored the only goal of the shootout as the Sabres won the game 6-5. But the media attention was focused on a second period which featured a crushing check, multiple fights, three players ejected from the game — including both starting goaltenders — and Sabres fans collectively gasping as one of their co-captains, and possible MVP-candidate, was injured.
The game concluded a season-long six-game homestand for the Sabres. The set featured the team earning 11 of the 12 possible points but losing the services of eight regulars. Each game played featured at least one injury, each carrying a long-term sentence for the player.
In case you were hiding under a rock, while Buffalo was leading 3-2, Senators forward Chris Neil blind-sided Chris Drury, who scored the team's first goal and his team-leading 33rd of the season, with a solid shoulder jolt. The hit sent the Sabres' leading goal-scorer flipping through the air, removing his helmet in the process. Drury was cut on the play and required 20 stitches to close the gash on his forehead.
"It was a predator type of hit where Chris was vulnerable," head coach Lindy Ruff said Friday. "Neil went out of his way to deliver a blow to Chris' head. It was a deliberate attempt to put someone out."
Drury likely suffered a concussion on the play, according to Ruff, and the team said he was displaying symptoms. He will be out indefinitely.
Forward Mark Mancari has been recalled by Buffalo from AHL Rochester, leaving two forward prospects on the team: Marek Zagrapan and Dylan Hunter.
"There's been a lot of injuries," Mancari said Friday after skating with the team. "I'm just happy to be here."
Stafford immediately chased down Neil, and the two of them dropped their gloves. After the scrum ended, Ruff decided to put tough guys Adam Mair and Andrew Peters on the ice to face off against Ottawa superstars Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Mike Comrie.
Immediately following the puck hitting the ice, the tough guys went to work. Mair repeatedly cross-checked Spezza while Peters reached around Heatley's face from behind and pulled. When Spezza was repeatedly punched by Mair, Ottawa had had enough.
That led to all hell breaking loose, including the goaltenders getting into it at center ice. In a bizarre twist, Peters fought Ottawa goaltender Ray Emery, a known boxing student.
Peters commented on the bizarre incident, saying that Emery has a history of fighting. He's done it in juniors and in the AHL, Peters said.
The fighting lasted nearly five minutes and delayed the game 20 more as the referees tried to sort out the mess, which even included Ruff and Ottawa coach Bryan Murray screaming at each other while standing on ledges, through the no man's land that is the media station between the two benches. Ruff even fell down while screaming.
In one of the few humorous moments of the altercation, MSG sideline reporter — and former player of both teams — Rob Ray attempted to cover his microphone to keep the curse words from making it onto Buffalo TV and radio.
After the fighting subsided, there was still a game to conclude, and the Sabres found themselves killing off a 5-on-3 power play. Heatley scored one of his two goals on the night, knotting the score at three apiece. While killing off the penalties, the team had eight players sitting on its bench.
Spezza, Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson also scored for the Senators, who had a five-game winning streak snapped. They scored the first two of the game and the last two as well, both blowing, and rallying back from, a two-goal lead.
Thomas Vanek scored twice in a 40-second span of the second period for Buffalo, bringing his total to 31 on the season. Rookie Clarke MacArthur also scored, his first NHL goal, while fellow first-years Michael Ryan and Angola native Patrick Kaleta each recorded their first assists.
The league issued a statement about the hit on Drury, stating that it was deemed a legal hit, and that it did not deserve a penalty. There is no word, however, on possible suspensions. The league has until game time to make its decision.
It is clear that the league will be keeping a close eye on this game. It is also expected that the referees will not allow any unnecessary altercations to occur, realizing the amount of emotion that will likely be present.
"I'm sure that the referees will be calling everything tonight," Peters said Friday.
Ottawa has the lead in the season series with a 4-3 record.
Ryan Miller will likely find his way back into the nets Saturday after relieving Marty Biron, who was ejected along with Emery and Peters for their roles in the brawl. Emery looks to be the likeliest candidate to start for Ottawa, though Martin Gerber has won his previous six starts.
The Senators will dress enforcer Brian McGratton. McGratton and Peters have squared off in what seems like each and every game the two have faced each other over the past two seasons. Peters has had the upper-hand in most if not all of the two's fights including when the Buffalo enforcer knocked McGratton out of the lineup for weeks late last season.
Fun Fact of the Game:
Tonight will be the 21st matchup between the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres in 16 months, or since the NHL returned from the lockout that cancelled the 2003-04 season. This includes a five-game playoff series last May which Buffalo won.