The Bruins forward had blocked a shot at the point by Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek and saw a chance for a breakaway as the puck bounced off the boards behind the Sabres’ defense. But Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller ventured far out of his crease and beat Lucic to the puck.
Lucic didn’t stop, though, crashing into Miller and knocking the netminder over violently. That didn’t sit well with Miller, who swung his stick at Lucic from the ice immediately after the hit and ripped into the Bruins forward verbally after the contest.
“I’m not going to really get into that,” Miller said. “I just stuck around because I just want to say what a piece of [expletive] I think Lucic is. Fifty pounds on me, and he runs me like that. It’s unbelievable. Everyone in this city sees him as a big, tough, solid player. I respected him for how hard he played. That was gutless. Gutless, piece of [expletive].”
Actually, gutless would be a better description for the utter lack of response from the Sabres to the sight of their goalie laid out violently. Lucic was called for charging, but faced no other repercussions for the hit. Despite violating one of hockey’s most vigorously enforced unwritten rules to avoid hitting the goalie, Lucic faced absolutely no retaliation from the Sabres.
The lack of response was startling, and the Bruins took full advantage of the knowledge that they were facing a foe easily intimidated by their physical style.
When asked if he was surprised by the lack of response, Lucic admitted, “A little bit, yeah.”
The Sabres seemed disgusted by their cowardice as well.
“I mean, you look to respond,” Buffalo center Paul Gaustad said. “It also depends on who you’re on the ice with too, in a physical standpoint. I thought we didn’t push back. There’s no reason to be scared. We had to go after it and we didn’t. We lost the second and third period.”
The Bruins were trailing 1-0 when Lucic ran over Miller at 13:12 of the first period. The Bruins scored the next six goals en route to a convincing 6-2 win. The Sabres never threatened to make a game of it after failing to stick up for Miller, who eventually left after the second period with a neck injury.
“It really gave us a lot of emotion and energy,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said of Lucic’s hit. “We seemed to play a lot better after that and the fans really ate it up and really got into the game after that. It was definitely the turning point for our team.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien felt that the Bruins were already starting to pick up their play before the hit, but the crowd response and Buffalo’s lack of response certainly didn’t hurt Boston’s cause.
“Our team is one of those teams that when something like that happens and there’s a bit of a scuffle, it certainly energizes our team,” Julien said. “It’s been something that we know from the past that if teams want to engage with us, we’re certainly willing to do our fair share.”
The Sabres weren’t willing to do their fair share. Other than Miller’s own stick swinging, which fortunately did not connect with Lucic, no one on the ice attempted to go after the Bruins forward.
“I think depending on what line was out there, someone else might have answered the bell,” Marchand said. “With a guy like Looch, who’s very tough, and they had a skill line out there, no one is really going to step up to the plate. If it would have been [Cody] McCormick or somebody out there they would have said something, but we obviously feed off that. It really got the fans into it and was big for our team.”
Sabres tough guy McCormick still had more than two periods to address the issue, but made no effort to confront Lucic — not even after the Bruins put the game out of reach. And while Buffalo may not have had its toughest players on the ice at the time of the incident, they did have Gaustad out there who is an experienced fighter and a match for Lucic physically at 6-foot-5, 212 pounds.
Tyler Myers isn’t much of a fighter, but at 6-foot-8, 227 pounds, he could have tried to do something as well. But Gaustad, Myers, Vanek (6-foot-2, 205 pounds), Jason Pominville (6-foot, 185 pounds) and Andrej Sekera (6-foot, 201 pounds) — the five Sabres on the ice at the time of the hit — all refused to engage the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Lucic.
Upon hearing of Gaustad’s comments admitting the Sabres didn’t respond, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff pointed out, “Well Paul was on the ice.”
But Gaustad did nothing when it mattered most. Instead, the Sabres looked to the referees to fight their battles.
“I thought it was a major [penalty],” Ruff said. “I thought if it’s open season on the goalies, then let’s get at it.”
Bruins goalie Tim Thomas expected the Sabres to possibly run him in retaliation, but that never happened either.
“Basically from my perspective, I was just trying to, after that happened, make sure that I was on my toes,” Thomas said. “I didn’t know if there would be a kind of retribution hit. That’s kind of the old school way.”
But the Sabres are a new school type of team. They tucked their tails between their legs and let themselves be run out of the building.
That’s certainly not the way the Bruins would have responded, at least not this Bruins squad. They faced their own issues a couple years back when no one immediately responded to Matt Cooke‘s cheap shot on Marc Savard. Since then, the Bruins have been the aggressors on most occasions, and are always willing to stand up for one another if another team crosses the line with one of their own.
“Definitely,” Lucic said when asked if the response would have been different if Thomas had been hit like that. “We wouldn’t accept anything like that. We would have taken care of business, but we’re a different team than they are.”
And as the scoreboard showed on Saturday night, not to mention the new Stanley Cup banner flying up in the rafters alongside it, the Bruins are a much better team than the Sabres.