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Battle in Buffalo

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BUFFALO – Darche discusses the Sabres 7-2 loss last night, Erik Cole on his protégé, and Cunneyworth’s return to Buffalo.

Beware the Sabres: Usually facing an opponent that played the night before comes with its share of advantages: them having traveled, being fatigued, etc. On the other hand, when the opposition just finished getting routed 7-2 – as the Sabres did at the hands of the Flyers last night – you can pretty much expect them to tear out of the gate looking for retribution.

Erik Cole on facing the Sabres

“Most teams when they give up a game like that, where they were leading 2-0 and end up losing 7-2, are probably going to play their next game like they have something to prove,” explained Mathieu Darche, who has recently seen an increase in ice time, playing at least 17 minutes in each of his last eight games. “The game was theirs to win, but they wound up getting dominated by the end. I’m sure they heard about it from their coach this morning. Now they’re going to be playing back in front of their fans, and we can be sure to expect their best effort tonight.”

A pair of aces: Tied neck in neck at 44 points apiece heading into the Canadiens’ 59th game of the year, Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty have been two of the Habs’ most consistent offensive weapons since the first puck dropped to start the 2011-12 campaign. Similarities abound between the team’s top power forwards, both having dealt with severe neck injuries in the course of their careers, and both bringing a direct, physical and fearless style of hockey to the table. While the steady influence of Cole has clearly rubbed off on Pacioretty, the veteran winger insists it’s a two-way street.

“I think playing together has helped both of us, really. I’ll point out some things to him and he’ll point out some things to me just like Cory Stillman, Ray Whitney and some other real smart hockey players that I had the luxury to play with for several years did with me,” explained Cole of the sophomore’s progression since returning from injury.

Despite being tied for points, Cole’s 22 goals put him just behind Pacioretty when it comes to lighting the lamp, with two less markers than his young teammate.

“Max is the type of guy that when he has a challenge in front of him, more often than not, he’s going to succeed – whether to prove others wrong, or more likely, to prove himself right,” added Cole. “He knows he has the size and speed to play the game with a certain conviction that will make guys have a hard time handling him.”

Back to Buffalo: After playing nearly 10 years in a Sabres jersey, ending his career in Buffalo in 1998-99, Canadiens head coach, Randy Cunneyworth is ready to make his return to the First Niagara Center on Friday night. Despite it being the Habs’ first visit to Buffalo since Cunneyworth came on board behind the bench in October, the Montreal coach is far from finding himself in uncharted waters.

“It’s great to be back in Buffalo. I enjoyed a lot of great times here,” shared Cunneyworth. “The only thing that’s different is that I’m going to be behind the visitor’s bench tonight. We’re just concerned with making sure our team is ready for a battle.

“The [1998-] 1999 season is probably my best memory here,” continued Cunneyworth of the campaign that saw the Sabres play their way into the Stanley Cup Finals, before falling to the Stars after a controversial goal by Brett Hull. “It was an extremely exciting moment as a player. The final result was obviously disappointing, but I think that fans here really appreciated the run.”

Justin Fragapane is a writer for

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