As far as I’m concerned, Jerry Sullivan asked the question of the year last night:
“Are there some things more important than the final score?”
Yes there are, and Lindy Ruff was half right. He said the playoffs are more important and that’s true, but so is your five year, $31.25 million franchise goaltender. In fact, he’s the most important piece of your playoff hopes. Ryan Miller is the only player on this team more important than Thomas Vanek, and now they’re both gone.
But this wasn’t some freak accident or a deflected puck, this was Scott Gomez making contact with your franchise goaltender behind the net. Call it “running” or “slew footing” or whatever you’d like, Scott Gomez took out the best player on the ice last night, and no one felt the need to do anything about it. Kevin Sylvester can claim Connolly went after Gomez all he wants, but that’s some pretty poor retribution no matter how you spin it.
You can slice this play any way you’d like, and I’m sure we’ll hear some crazy angles over the next few days. If you ask me, it’s all pretty irrelevant. Whether intentional or not, no matter what the score, and no matter what the penalty situation; someone goes after a Ranger following this play. Or sometime. Whenever, there was over 18 minutes left in the game and two separate three goal leads. Someone pays for Gomez’ little “accident” no matter what the score because it’s Ryan freaking Miller.
Some people have said that the time and place to react to something like this was 30 or 40 games ago, and in a way they’re right. However, that doesn’t nullify the fact that someone should have done something about it right then and there. I don’t care who had their back to the play, or didn’t see it, or whatever. How Scott Gomez and Henrik Lundqvist are off the hook on this is beyond me.
And don’t say that no one has complained about this before, because fans have been rumbling about Miller getting bumped all year. I’ve heard countless times from a number of fans that only Rivet or Gaustad or Mair will go after a guy for bumping Miller. It was obvious when Rivet was hurt that no one on defense wants to make a guy pay, and many people have pointed it out against aggressive teams. Of course more people mention it when Miller finally gets hurt, but that doesn’t change anything.
It was interesting to see what people thought of this team’s lack of reaction in the postgame. Lindy Ruff defended it and appears to have ordered it, even accusing Sully of being “angry” about the hit instead of answering just the question. Rob Ray defended the club’s absence of action as well, but it’s pretty clear he still thinks he’s on the team at times. Ray’s reaction was rather shocking considering how he played the game, but I suppose when you think you’re still in the player’s club it’s easy to defend this team.
The rest of the opinions were very critical, and rightfully so. Robitaille was clearly upset about the way this team “responded”, and Paul Hamilton was as well. I’m paraphrasing here, but Hamilton said that he would have liked to see someone go after Gomez during the last few seconds and “beat the hell out of him” regardless of the penalties or suspensions. That’s a pretty harsh reaction from a guy who is in the locker room asking questions every day, and to be honest I completely agree.
The postgame interviews were very odd, but I think Patrick Lalime was the most honest. He called this team out in the most gentile way possible, saying that he “hoped” the players didn’t see it instead of refusing to act. I think Lalime is looking ahead to Tuesday night against a hard hitting Ducks team, and hoping the team will be there for him.
Still, the way players reacted was a bit unsettling. The interviews we saw from Ruff and Lalime, as well as the reaction from Ray all felt like they were missing something. They were edging around a few questions, almost like they were hiding this deep dark secret that they don’t want to let out. No one wanted to say it, but it was there. This team does have a secret, but tonight it was clear as day to me:
This team is soft.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know how tough hockey players are. I’ve been in the locker room asking questions with players holding bloody heads and bruised bodies. Hockey is one of the toughest sports out there, and I’d never question a player’s intensity or devotion to the game, but what I saw tonight out of that group was not good. If you can’t stand up for your franchise goaltender, how do you win a seven game playoff series where teams are doing that night in and night out against you?
Even if there was not going to be retribution in the third period, finish your goddamn checks. I don’t want to see Roy skating up to a guy in the corner and peeling off for a change six inches from the puck. Take him into the wall and put some pressure on. Hit a guy who has his head down over the middle. Don’t stick check or let a guy go by you. The Rangers played like garbage all night, take out your beacon of hope for the postseason, and you’re not at all angry? Show some fire.
What happened tonight smacks of a team desperately needing some heart. I’m not asking for a brawl, but I’m asking for someone to step up and make the Rangers pay a price for hitting Miller. Run Lundqvist or Gomez or Drury. Dubinsky runs into Lalime later in the period and nothing is done. Who is the Sabres’ emergency goaltender? Do we even know who that guy is?
I respect Ryan Miller for giving an interview during the postgame, as there are plenty of places to hide in that locker room. Still, what I saw on his face was not good. He looked angry and scared, and you could tell the situation was much worse than he let on. As fans of a team battling for a playoff spot, the last thing you want to hear is your starting goaltender call his injury a good opportunity for the AHL prospect. If there was anything I didn’t want to hear Ryan Miller say, it was the name “Jonas Enroth”.
The game was fine and the win was good, but there is something more important than the final score. His name is Ryan Miller, and for some reason no one on the Buffalo Sabres felt like making someone pay for what happened to him. It’s not the end-all-be-all sign of things to come for this team, but it’s a sign I sure do hate. It bothers me that nothing was done.
I hate their utter refusal to act when some struggling hockey player even goes near my dark horse candidate for the Vezina. I don’t care how much money Scott Gomez is making, his recent game log smacks of average. The Sabres let an overpaid, frustrated hockey player on a sinking ship of a team effectively cripple their postseason hopes, and everyone on the roster seems content with this.