By Bill Hoppe
BUFFALO — The gloves flew off just 2:26 into the game, and for about 10 seconds Cody McCormick and Shawn Thornton fought ferociously, a harbinger for the rest of the fierce Northeast Division tilt between the Sabres and Boston Bruins.
Several stories above the First Niagara Center ice, as the heavyweights duked it out, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff must’ve been nodding in approval.
The three broken ribs Ruff suffered Monday during a scary practice collision with Jordan Leopold forced him to watch from the press box and hand over bench duties to assistant James Patrick.
But Ruff, who’s still in considerable pain, dearly wanted to show up Wednesday following two days home recovering. His players rewarded the gutsy effort with one their own.
In arguably their most complete game this season, the Sabres torched the defending Stanley Cup champions 6-0 before a capacity crowd of 18,690 loud fans.
“I felt better and better as the game went on,” said Ruff, who will continue to serve as an “eye in the sky” while he recovers. “At the end I felt really good.”
He added: “I’m going to be down and out a little while, but that makes you feel better. … (I’ll) take a hit to win a game any day.”
Forget about the goal bonanza or goalie Ryan Miller’s second shutout in three games, though.
The Sabres’ physicality sent a loud statement against the rough-and-tumble Bruins.
Nearly three months ago, when agitator Milan Lucic got away with running Miller in Boston, the Sabres looked pathetic.
On Wednesday, the Sabres played the aggressor role, initiating contact and refusing to back down to the Bruins.
“We’re ready to play,” Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta said. “We’re not going to get pushed over.”
It started with McCormick’s bout.
“He took on a tough guy there,” Kaleta said. “When you see a guy stand up like that, it gives you a little more ammo in the system, more adrenaline going.”
Ten minutes later, with the Sabres up 1-0 from Christian Ehrhoff’s score, Kaleta fought Lucic off a faceoff. When it ended, Kaleta implored the fans with his arms, and they responded by roaring.
The Sabres led 2-0 shortly after.
“Get the crowd into it,” Kaleta said. “Get the blood flowing a little bit. Knock the cobwebs out of the old melon a little bit. I guess it was an awesome night.”
By the end, the Bruins were chasing around Kaleta, who also scored a goal. In the waning minutes, Lucic hit Kaleta in the head, earning a 10-minute misconduct.
“I thought he got under their skin a little bit,” Ruff said about Kaleta.
Mike Weber also scrapped with Thornton in the third period. The team combined for 90 penalty minutes in the wildly entertaining affair.
“They’re a team that wants to kind of intimidate you and push you around,” Miller said. “It just goes to show if you hang in there and play good hockey, that stuff doesn’t really matter.”
Ruff, meanwhile, lauded the job Patrick and assistants Kevyn Adams and Teppo Numminen did. Patrick ran the forwards and Adams took over the defensemen. Numminen moved down from the press box.
“James did a great job of taking the bull by the horns,” said Ruff, who “missed” his first game since March 20, 2006. “I said, ‘It’s just your bench to run. … I’m not giving you any advice on who to play and how to play. It’s all yours.’”
Ruff won’t even be able to run practice from the ice. Instead, he’ll stay on the bench.
“It’s just too dangerous being out there with Leo,” he deadpanned.
The Sabres looked dangerous offensively throughout while extending their unbeaten streak to 4-0-1.
Jason Pominville’s 18th and 19th scores tied him with Thomas Vanek for the team lead. Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford also scored.
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask began the game with terrific numbers – 4-3, 2.28 goals-against average and a.931 save percentage – against the Sabres. But the 24-year-old performed terribly Wednesday, stopping only seven of 10 shots before getting yanked for Tim Thomas 1:52 into the second period.
The Bruins had one chance strong chance to swing the momentum.
At 8:20, Lucic beat Miller in front. But the official ruled Rich Peverley interfered with Miller, disallowing the goal.
Miller, who made 36 saves, traces the call back to Lucic’s November thump.
“I think it might’ve been Boston couldn’t touch me,” he said. “Just the way things have played out in the last few months. I definitely got the benefit there. I’m not going to complain there.”