The Boston Bruins will try to extend their winning streak to 10 games at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo on Wednesday night when they take on the Buffalo Sabres with first place in the Northeast Division on the line. But neither of those storylines is the hottest topic as the teams meet for the second time in 11 days.
In the Bruins' 6-2 win on Nov. 12, Milan Lucic barreled over Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller in the first period as he was racing in to beat Miller to the puck. Miller, who had come out of the crease to play the puck, went flying to the ice and as he came back up swung his stick in an errant attempt to slash Lucic.
Unfortunately for Miller, he was the only one to retaliate for what the Sabres felt was a suspendable offense. NHL head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan didn't agree.
The Sabres were called out by coach Lindy Ruff, general manager Darcy Regier and even Lucic and some of his Boston teammates for their lack of a response, so there has been plenty of speculation that the Sabres will seek revenge Wednesday night.
Following that game, Lucic said his focus was the puck and not taking out Miller, which the Sabres accused him of, and after Tuesday's practice, the Bruins' rugged winger wasn't backing down from his take on the play. He was more focused on the importance of the two points in the standings at stake.
"I think it's definitely going to be a hard-fought game and I think we can talk about whatever happened the last game, but there's more at stake than just getting revenge," Lucic told reporters. "What we're focused on more than anything is to just keep the streak rolling and to secure first place in the division. That's our main focus.
"Obviously they addressed that they weren't happy with how they responded and they were talking about that for a couple of days. I said what I said and going back, my answer is not going to change. With the hit, I was barreling down on the puck and my main focus was the puck, a collision ensued and unfortunately Miller got hurt on the play. There's not much more that needs to be said about it."
Miller stayed in the game after the hit, but left in the third period. It was determined he suffered a concussion and he hasn't played since.
While Lucic's teammates also say they are focused on winning and not what the Sabres may do for retribution, they are prepared for anything and will be willing combatants if necessary. In fact, the Bruins would welcome a physical game since they thrive off physicality and emotion. That being said, the Bruins can't determine if there will be a carryover from the hit on Miller.
"I haven't really thought about it," forward Gregory Campbell said following his team's 1-0 win over Montreal on Monday. "But this team has been in situations like that before and a lot of times things are made of games and nothing comes of it. So to us, we go into games focusing on winning. Our nature is to play physical anyway and if we're not playing physical then we're probably not playing well. It's not really our area to worry about. It was an internal issue with their team and they can handle it however they want."
Defenseman Andrew Ference noted that in situations like this the referees and league pay close attention and are ready to fine and/or suspend if necessary. In March 2010, the Bruins were in a similar spot as the Sabres are in now. Penguins forward Matt Cooke concussed Bruins center Marc Savard with a brutal open-ice hit that did not draw a suspension. When the teams met 11 days later, the hockey world was expecting the Bruins to exact revenge but other than a quick bout between Bruins winger Shawn Thornton and Cooke, little was forthcoming. Ference isn't expecting more than that Wednesday night.
"It's not like you can just go out there and be stupid," Ference said Monday. "We were in a similar situation obviously with the Cooke thing. If they want to get goofy then that's fine. Our team is well equipped for different kinds of games.
"I know that it was a controversial hit and obviously they were upset about it and you always want some kind of retribution. [Lucic] is fully prepared to answer anybody that wants to get involved. But if not, then we just play. I don't think that we're the determining factor in how that game goes down."
Ference also agreed with Campbell that a more physical game would play into the Bruins' style.
"We're definitely not the most run-and-gun team and we do like some physicality in our games," Ference said. "But I wouldn't expect a stupid game because you just can't do stupid things on the ice; it costs you a lot of money. If there's something where it's straight up man-on-man, then that's fine and I think everybody's fine with that."
Will Ference and his teammates be keeping a close eye out for one of the Sabres to take a run at their goalie?
"You do anyway," Ference said. "If somebody does something stupid, you make sure you back your goalie up. But Shanahan will also get involved if it gets goofy. So you protect him and you do your job up until you're allowed to and after that, it's up to the big boys."
Fellow rearguard Dennis Seidenberg figures Lucic will be the main target, but he and his teammates aren't going to preoccupy themselves with what the Sabres might do.
"I'm sure somebody wants to fight Luch, but we haven't thought about it or spoken about it," Seidenberg said. "I know guys aren't losing time thinking about that. But whatever happens happens. It doesn't really matter."
"It is such a quick second that you need to make that decision and I don't know if that was it or what as for why there was no immediate reaction," Seidenberg said. "I know what I would have done and will do if need be, but that's me and I'm not them."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.