This is what we all wanted, right hockeyfans? Arguably the two best in the East, Buffalo and Ottawa, squaring off for the right to face the Western Champs and hoist up that silvery punch bowl amalgamut trophy that brings grown men to tears. On paper, and in pure hockey terms, this couldn't get any better. Two ridiculous offenses, two solid defenses one through six, an overly intense All-star starting goaltender on one end, and the other with a driving record and a lot to prove/redeem (though he's doing a fine job so far). This couldn't get any more exciting. So what is it much of the media and fans are obsessing over?
Revenge? A questionable hit back in February? Brawling and cheapshotting?
Look, can we get this out of the way? Does anyone here with a brain honestly think that either team will risk anything stupid in the Conference Finals because of "revenge"? All we heard from Downstate New York last round was how Sean Avery would be the second coming of Claude Lemieux, how he was going to "hurt them", and cause so much havok with his mastery of filth. From my vantage point in section 309 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo for games one, two, and five, all I remember from Avery was how often he flopped on his back when 83 year old Teppo Numminen laid the body on him, his shots from 50 feet that hit Miller in the crest EVERY TIME, and minus his mere 6 minutes in penalties, his disappearing act for every game but #4. His 0G-0A and -5 sure weren't that intimidating.
What's my point already? I'm no fan of Chris Neil, but i don't think Chris Neil is a moron, and he's certainly a much better player than Avery. Chris Neil is a fine checker with an actual penchant for offense, and Chris Neil is not going to do anything stupid to hurt his team, despite his reputation. Finally, Chris Neil isn't going to spat to the media about what pain he will personally inflict on the Sabres, only that he will "finish his checks" because "that's his game". Thank you, Chris. Regardless of your opinion of his series of hits in February, he does have a rep. So his teammates, i'm sure, wouldn't appreciate any false moves, and i would hope Coach Murray would be enfuriated by that in this setting. The Buffalo Sabres, likewise, are not going to take open suckerpunches or board him for the sake of "revenge" either. Chris Drury would disown you himself, despite you acting out of loyalty to him, if you irresponsibly put your team on the PK and potentially risk giving up a goal.
the Conference Finals are no place for wasteful revenge.
The series will involve a LOT of checking and action, i'm sure. This will be, presumably, as hard fought a seven games as any in recent memory. Both teams coming out of bankruptcy and into the ECF in a matter of years you could count on one hand (Buffalo twice in a row now). Both teams without a Stanley Cup for their cities. There's no lack of motivation for 100% effort here. Just don't tell me Lindy Ruff will send out Adam Mair to go knee-to-knee on Alfredsson. Don't tell me Neil decides to check Briere from behind and drive his head into the boards. This isn't game #52 of the regular season. Don't tell me these two teams are going into this round thinking about how to "return the favor" in those ways. Ottawa has plenty of hockey revenge in them in regards to last year's meltdown to Buffalo in Round 2, and Buffalo will feed off of Ottawa's regular season dominance, and the media playing the Sabres off as "playing down to their opponents".
If you want dirty blood, we'll see you next year.
And if i'm wrong about all of this, well frankly then i'll be a bit disappointed. Because that's not what i want to see. Leave the garbage out by the curb.
And if i'm right... this will be, as Lindy Ruff said... "one hell of a series".