Generally, you’re not going to a Bruins-Sabres game in November expecting anything too wild.
November 12, 2011 ended up being an exception to that rule.
The defending-champion Bruins weren’t off to the best start, unevenly playing their way to a 7-7-0 record; Buffalo, on the other hand, was 10-5-0, a point out of first place in the then-Northeast Division and three points out of the lead in the Eastern Conference.
I went to this game, sitting up in the balcony behind the Buffalo net with my friend Bill. We always made jokes about whether or not a guy was going to run the goalie, mainly because we used to do it in the NHL video games.
Good times back in the mid-2000’s.
Anyways, we saw Milan Lucic chasing down a loose puck and Ryan Miller coming out of the crease, leading my friend to utter the standard “maybe he’ll run the goalie” refrain.
To say that we were shocked that he actually did it would be an understatement. The reaction from the Garden crowd was a brief moment of stunned silence followed by an eruption, mainly due to disbelief.
Lucic ended up with two minutes for charging. Not only did the Bruins kill the penalty, but they ended up scoring the game’s next six goals and ended the night with a 6-2 win.
Of course, the win wasn’t the main topic of conversation after the game.
Ryan Miller would only play two periods, but made sure he was around after the game to deliver his verdict on the proceedings:
“I stuck around because I just wanted to say what a piece of shit I think Lucic is...50 pounds on me and runs me like that? It’s unbelievable...gutless. Gutless...piece of shit.”
Lucic, of course, would claim that the collision wasn’t intentional and that he couldn’t avoid Miller. It’s a good thing Lucic chose hockey over a career in law.
Lucic ended up escaping without a suspension, and life went on.
For the Bruins, life was good! The B’s went 15-2-1 in their next 18 games, including two different 5+ game winning streaks.
For Buffalo, things went south, and the franchise still hasn’t recovered.
The beginning of the fall, and still falling
The Sabres would play 22 games between that game and the end of the calendar year; they lost 15 of them.
When 2012 rolled around, the Bruins were first in the Northeast Division, a whopping 11 points above fourth-place Buffalo. That represented a 17-point swing in the standings after “the Lucic game.”
For Bruins fans, it was pretty simple to acknowledge it was a cheapshot, but also to applaud the “toe the line and maybe go over it” physical play.
For the Sabres, it was a complete disaster.
The team was roundly criticized after the game for doing only a tiny bit more than nothing in defense of Miller.
Sure, there was a scrum, but it was the same kind of scrum that follows someone snowing the goalie.
Simply put, it was embarrassing.
The Sabres tried to right the ship when the two teams met again 11 days later, only to have Paul Gaustad lose the fight and the Sabres lose the game.
Prior to the 2011-2012 season, Buffalo had lost in the first round of the playoffs two years in a row, but a few years before that, they’d made back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference Final.
After the Lucic collision, the Sabres went on to miss the playoffs in 2011-2012.
They haven’t been back since.
In fact, in the nine full seasons since then, Buffalo has finished last in its division six times.
There’s obviously a bit of hyperbole in claiming that this incident alone sank the Sabres’ ship, as it’s never quite that simple.
However, the Sabres organization was clearly rattled by the incident, more specifically by the lack of a response from the team.
Probably fearing being the Bruins’ punching bag for another season, Buffalo went out and tried to remake itself by bringing in Steve Ott and John Scott.
Needless to say, neither really worked out (though Ott could be a kind of “pest who can play a little” guy on his good nights).
And while it’s not quite fair to say that Buffalo abandoned all attempts at talent in favor of fists, the team clearly tried to overhaul character shortcomings, and it really didn’t work.
An article from Jeff Seide of The Hockey Writers some six years after the incident found that Buffalo had the league’s worst record since the collision happened.
“You ruined their entire organization.”
While the Bruins and Sabres have won the same number of Stanley Cups since the incident, the B’s have clearly fared much better.
The Bruins have made the playoffs in all but two of the ten seasons since the incident, including two Final appearances.
And while we already covered the fact that the hit alone isn’t responsible for the state of the Sabres, the parties involved are well aware of the aftermath.
When the Bruins held their infamous Zoom reunion of the 2011 Cup-winning team, Loochgate inevitably came up:
Lucic: “He shouldn’t have been standing there.”
Kelly: “You ruined their entire season that year.”
Ference: “You ruined their entire organization.”
Lucic would go on to note that the collapse worked out because it landed the Sabres Jack Eichel, which...yeah. Maybe not.
Looking at the whole incident with ten years’ worth of hindsight, there are a ton of thing that seemed crazy at the time that look a whole lot wilder now:
- It remains insane that Lucic saw that opening and took it.
- It’s wild that the league’s response was essentially “eh, don’t do that again, OK?”
- It’s ridiculous that Buffalo’s response can basically be summed up as “hey mister, don’t you do that.”
Who knows what happens next?
The Bruins are still decent, and Buffalo’s squad, faced with no expectations, looks brighter than it has in many years.
Maybe in order to break the Curse of the Collision, someone on the Sabres has to run a Bruins goalie.
If that’s the case, hopefully the Bruins have a better response.