Lindy Ruff is not going to let any warnings from Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's czar of discipline, deter his team from doing what he sees as the right thing against the Boston Bruins.
If that means taking revenge on Boston Bruins winger Milan Lucic for the hit that left Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller out indefinitely with a concussion, the Sabres head coach indicated the chips should fall where they may.
"I expect our team to come out hard in all areas," a tight-lipped Ruff said Wednesday morning following the Sabres' game-day skate in preparation for the game against the Bruins, the teams' first meeting since Nov. 12 when Lucic hit Miller and the Sabres meekly did nothing about it in a 6-2 loss.
Ruff said after that game he was disappointed none of his players went after Lucic following the hit, which created much anticipation for Wednesday night's game. Shanahan warned both Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and Sabres GM Darcy Regier against any shenanigans but it seems Ruff did not pass along the message to his players.
"I haven't talked to my team about that," he said. "It doesn't change anything for me."
When someone asked if there should be retaliation, Ruff said, "I don't think Shanahan would like to hear that."
The response of the Sabres on Nov. 12 was brought up and Ruff said he has not changed his mind about that, either.
"I'll answer the question one more time," he said. "We were real disappointed in our response. That won't happen again."
Ruff did say the Sabres would also send a strong message simply by winning the game.
The defending Stanley Cup champions have righted themselves after a 3-7 start, arriving in Buffalo with a nine-game winning streak. The Bruins are back to playing their bruising style, which has them tied with the Sabres, who have three losses in their last five games, at 24 points in the Northeast Division standing.
The winning team will tie the Toronto Maple Leafs in points and take the division lead based on wins.
"They're proving they're a championship team," Ruff said. "Until somebody knocks them off, they're on a roll where they think they can go out and repeat. It's a great opportunity for us to make a statement."
Lucic, who said after the Nov. 12 game he would have handled things differently than the Sabres if it was his goaltender who was hit, is expecting someone to do something.
"It's not fun when media and people are pointing their fingers because of what happened, and when they start pointing fingers at guys in the room," Lucic said. "Definitely, they're going to be prepared for this game, not only [because of]the incident, but also they lost to us 6-2 so they're going to want to come back with a big effort. We know they're going to be fired up and ready to go."
The role of villain is a familiar and apparently enjoyable one for Lucic. Fans in his hometown of Vancouver vilified him for taking a lead role in slapping around the Canucks during the Stanley Cup final last June. And there's at least one other NHL city where he enjoys notoriety.
"It's happened to me before, a couple years ago back in Montreal," he said. "They still boo me there. It's something that comes with the game and helps build a rivalry. It's fun to be part of rivalries like this."
Lucic said he was not trying to call the Sabres cowards when he said he would have handled matter differently himself. But the Bruins had their own come-to-Jesus moments in the last couple of years: When Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins left Bruins centre Marc Savard with a serious concussion that he has still not recovered from, no Bruin did anything until the next game and it was the same situation with a hit by Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Randy Jones that concussed centre Patrice Bergeron.
"You have to be prepared going into any game no matter what the situation is," Lucic said. "I play a physical type of game, so it's not going to change the way I play.
"I think both teams have a lot more at stake with the game, with the winner being on the top of the division. That is our focus, and my focus, more than anything."
The most likely outcome is that someone from the Sabres will engage Lucic in a fight on his first or second shift and that will be the end of it. It is also an ending that would satisfy Shanahan as well.
One of the few Sabres who is willing to play a physical game is Patrick Kaleta, who is a fringe player. By the end of the skate, it was not clear if he is going to play. Ruff said forward Jochen Hecht, out with a concussion since the start of the season, will make his season debut against the Bruins.