If you don't play hard, you won't play at all. Ice time will be earned. And his team certainly responded.
In the midst of a season-long, three-game losing streak, Buffalo awoke from their coma and delivered an action packed 6-3 win at HSBC Arena over the Boston Bruins.
Ruff was as good as his word. Players like rookie Daniel Paille, who skated arguably the best game of his young career and scored a pair of goals, saw their ice time skyrocket into the 19-minute mark. Paille averaged a shade under 13 minutes in his previous nine starts.
Others weren't so fortunate.
"I'm not going to hand out free ice time," said Ruff. "The guys that are going to battle and compete, you'll build up your ice time. Your not going to get handed it shift after shift if the commitment isn't there to play.
"I'm going to judge how you are playing in the game. [A player's] time can go up and up by playing hard. Maybe you're going to have a bad shift here and there. That we can overlook if it's not two in a row."
The Sabres showed the type of desperation that had elevated them to the top of the Eastern Conference. Battles that had previously been lost along the boards and in the corners were won. The power play even returned to some semblance of its former self.
"There were guys diving and there were guys hugging walls to keep pucks in," said Ruff of the power play, which finished the night one for three, converting on 33 percent of its chances for just the second time since November 20. "Overall, it was a greatly improved 60 minute effort for our team."
Being on the right side of the scoreboard and winning at home for the first time since New Years Day, did wonders for the club. The taste of victory gave an immediate boost to the locker room and lightened the temperament of the entire team.
"There is a winning feeling in this locker room," said Ales Kotalik. "When you don't win one or two [games], you want to get back to winning. Winning is fun and this is a winning team.
"We were trying to get back to simple hockey and it paid off today. We out-battled Boston and deserved the win."
But Buffalo is not out of the woods just yet. The win may be a confidence builder, but the team will need a repeat performance against Vancouver on Friday night for the slump to be considered over by Ruff.
Said Paille, "Hopefully this is a turnaround for us to get back on track."
Dmitri Kalinin lost control of the puck at Buffalo's blueline opening up a breakaway for Phil Kessel, who fired five-hole on Ryan Miller to record his sixth goal of the season at 10:16 of the first period. The unassisted goal was Kessel's second goal against Buffalo this season, his first was the first of his career on October 21. Miller allowed three goals off 28 shots.
With Buffalo's first power-play goal in their last 10 tries, Thomas Vanek tied the game 1-1. Daniel Briere flipped Brian Campbell's rebound into the crease from behind the net and Vanek just got enough of the bouncing puck with a swipe of his blade to coax it over the line for his 24th of the season and ninth with the man advantage at 12:29.
Paille's redirection of Kotalik's shot from slot earned his second career goal, first of the season, and gave Buffalo the 2-1 lead at 14:05.
"[Paille] was close to the best player on the ice tonight," said Ruff. "If he wasn't the best player in work ethic and how he skated, I'd argue with somebody over it.
"He gave some hits and took some hits. He scored a big goal and was in on three or four other opportunities."
Glenn Murray snuck behind the Sabres penalty kill and fired a wristshot into the top-left corner of the net to tie the game at 18:18.
With 5.5 seconds remaining in the first, Derek Roy redirected Maxim Afinogenov's shot from top of the face-off circle to give Buffalo the 3-2 lead heading into the intermission.
Kessel one-timed Marc Savard's across-ice pass top shelf for his second goal of the game and seventh of the season just 56 seconds into the third.
Brian Campbell fired from the blueline to break a 10-game goal drought and score his sixth of the season at 10:05. With the second assist, Daniel Briere set a new single-season, career-high with 38 helpers.
Afinogenov skated the width of the ice to out-work Andrew Alberts to a loose puck, curled around the slower defenseman into the offensive zone and scored his 21st of the season with a backhander at 14:16.
Paille one-timed Chris Drury's rebound, which deflected off the left post, into an empty net to record his second goal of the game and made the score 6-3 at 18:18.
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