Sabres are serving whine instead of champagne going into Game 7

Mike Richards would be suspended for Game 7 for his hit on Tim Connolly if Lindy Ruff had his way.
Mike Richards would be suspended for Game 7 for his hit on Tim Connolly if Lindy Ruff had his way.
Posted: April 25, 2011

BUFFALO - Moments after Sabres coach Lindy Ruff called for Mike Richards to be suspended for Game 7 tomorrow night, I found Flyers chairman Ed Snider sitting alone in the team's dressing room, orange socks matching his orange tie, reading from a scoresheet.

"Oh," Snider said, with a wry smirk, "is he whining again?"

Well, Ruff wasn't exactly singing Shuffle Off to - or in this case from - Buffalo after yesterday's 5-4 overtime loss forced a Game 7. The smirk Ruff wore after Richards complained about his team "getting away with murder" following the chippiness of Game 4 was now a somber monotone as he reeled off a list of the wounded on his team, from scorer Jason Pominville to defenseman Andrej Sekera to, now, Tim Connolly, who was rammed into the boards headfirst from behind by Richards with a little over 6 minutes left in the second period.

Connolly, who has a concussion history, was helped from the ice and did not return. Richards was given a 2-minute boarding minor, which put the Flyers down two players for 1 minute, 10 seconds, and down a man for the other 50 seconds.

Buffalo scored shortly after Richards' penalty expired, when Nathan Gerbe lasered a shot over the left shoulder of Brian Boucher to give the Sabres a 4-3 lead. It put a charge into the Sabres at the time, led to their most inspired play of the afternoon, but Ruff made it clear afterward that he felt the punishment had not fit the crime.

Yet.

"I've watched it," said Ruff. "And it's something the league definitely has to take a look at. It's from behind . . . it's a dangerous play."

Here's something he might want to look at, too: Snider is on the NHL competition committee that has revised its rules to crack down on cheap shots and recklessness over the last few years. And while the Flyers' chairman admitted that "I have to see a replay," he quickly added that, "It looked to me that he was down low. Richie didn't raise his arms or anything. These things happen. What we're trying to target is purposeful hits to the head."

So what was it? An unfortunate aggressive play that resulted in a player possibly knocked out for the remainder of this series, or a dirty shot from a player whose wayward elbow to the head of Patrick Kaleta earned him 5 minutes in Game 4?

Richards raised his arms then, which he called "self-defense." This play seemed to be more accidental than intentional, although Richards later held up when he had an opportunity to deliver a similar hit along the boards. That's the way the officials saw it. And like the call here last Wednesday, I saw no problem with it.

Ruff did. So, too, did Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who openly mocked Richards' rationale after Game 4.

"If Mike Richards thinks we're getting away with murder," he said, "I don't know what he just got away with.

"Mass murder?

"Are we stepping it up a notch? Unbelievable. We lose a player for the rest of the game. That's the kind of hit the league has been talking about that's dangerous. They better seriously consider looking at that one. It's unbelievable."

Added Ruff, "We lose a good player. And if the league looks at it the way I did, they'll lose a good player, too."

"He always whines this time of the year," Snider said of Ruff, clearly enjoying the twist of fates that, once again, saw the Flyers rally from an early, goalie-induced, two-goal hole to tie Game 6 twice.

Richards' delivery of a bouncing puck to Scott Hartnell amid a goal-line scrum helped tie it at 4 with 9:17 left in the third period, and he repeated the process on the overtime goal, Kris Versteeg's flipped shot knocking off his raised stick and landing at the feet of Ville Leino, who knocked it past Miller to send this series to its rightful conclusion, a seventh game.

The Flyers' captain, who registered assists on the last two goals, was not made available afterward. Through a pool reporter, he was asked about Miller's comments.

"Um, no comment," he said.

Snider said no further punishment is needed.

"It's a fast game," he said. "You're going to check and all of a sudden his head is down. It's not like you're going for his head. You're going 40, 50 miles an hour on skates. People think it's easy. It's not like you're running on shoes. They're goddamn skates."

And so the worm turns. Will Richie face further discipline? Doubtful. But this is clear:

He who whines last won't be practicing Wednesday.

Send email to donnels@phillynews.com.

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