The Buffalo Sabres must make a statement against the Boston Bruins on Thursday night when they meet for the first time this season with a new-look roster that has more toughness and grit than it did last year.
When Bruins forward Milan Lucic ran over Sabres star goaltender Ryan Miller last season, Buffalo's response was embarrassing. They did not stick up for their franchise goaltender and no one fought Lucic.
Paul Gaustad was asked to fight Lucic in the next game between the two teams, and the Bruins power forward made the situation even worse for the Sabres by pummeling Gaustad.
The whole Miller/Lucic event devastated the Sabres, and it certainly played a large role in the team's inability to make the playoffs last season. Buffalo was labelled as a soft team and never recovered from the incident.
So how did the Sabres address their lack of toughness in the offseason?
They traded for gritty forward Steve Ott from the Dallas Stars, who has a history with the Bruins, and signed veteran free-agent John Scott, who at 6'8", is one of the few players in the NHL who can fight Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and win.
"I think that’s their choice to build a team they want, said Bruins head coach Claude Julien on Thursday morning.
"As far as I’m concerned, speculations are speculations, until it happens that’s all they are. We’ve played our style of game forever and we don’t plan on changing that, so there’s nothing, as far as we’re concerned, that is something to be worried about."
With just a few hours remaining until the new-look Sabres battle the Bruins at the TD Garden in Boston, the two questions on everyone's mind is how many fights will there be in this game, and how long will it take for Scott and Ott to challenge the Bruins?
It would be surprising if there wasn't a fight or two very early in the first period, and no one would be shocked if Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff put his fourth line with Scott and/or Ott on the ice for the opening faceoff.
If Ruff decides to put his fourth line onto the ice to begin the game, how will Julien respond? Look for Shawn Thornton and captain Zdeno Chara to take the ice early.
Julien is saying all the right things before the game, but putting AHL regular and tough guy Lane MacDermid on the fourth line tonight let's you know that the Bruins coach expects this to be a very physical game.
Since the Bruins are the home team, Julien will have the luxury of picking his lineup after he sees who Ruff has decided to start.
We could certainly see a repeat of a New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils game last season when the two teams had a line brawl after the first puck drop (see video below). We often see teams that have previous issues to settle before a game take care of them right away.
One thing we do know, is that if challenged, Scott isn't going to back down from anyone (via James Murphy of ESPN Boston):
Sabres enforcer John Scott when asked what he'll do if Shawn Thornton comes calling: "Then I'll fight him. I'm not scared of him or anyone."— Jimmy Murphy (@MurphysLaw74) January 31, 2013
The players will downplay this game, and the coaches will do the same, but make no mistake about it, this a statement game for the Sabres. They will want to show the Bruins that they won't be pushed around and are fully capable of having success playing a physical style of hockey.
The Bruins and Vancouver Canucks didn't make much of their Stanley Cup Final rematch last season, but after watching that game unfold, it was clear that both teams were not treating it like a normal regular-season game.
Will the Sabres make the playoffs this year?
The Canucks wanted to win that game badly, and expect the Sabres to come into tonight's meeting against the Bruins with the same approach. For teams around the NHL to take Buffalo seriously, the team must prove it can stand up to the the toughest clubs in the league, like the Bruins, and not crumble.
If you want to watch an exciting, physical game between two teams that don't like each other, Thursday night's Sabres versus Bruins game is one you cannot miss. Expect plenty of fireworks throughout the game in what could become an old-time Adams Division battle.
Nicholas Goss is a Boston Bruins columnist at Bleacher Report. He was also B/R's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston and has covered the Bruins since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter.
All quotes obtained from Bruins media website.