The first shots of the war of words between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers were fired before the series schedule had even been released. New York exploded Monday with the Rangers banter concerning a Sabres team they believe can be beaten in five to six games.
Head coach Tom Renney was quoted in multiple publications as saying, "I don't say they're the cream of the crop right now, but they're certainly one of eight teams left, and a good one."
Pest Sean Avery took his jabs a bit further, "I'm going to hurt them, I'm going to hit them, I'm going to be in their face as much as I can," and then added, "I'm sure there's going to be a little bit of adversity. I don't necessarily foresee us winning in four. I anticipate a long series. It could go six games or five."
The words were heard all the way from Broadway on Tuesday.
"That's always good for our room," said co-captain Daniel Briere concerning the statements. "But I'm not going to get in a [war of words] with any of their guys, at least not yet. We'll see after a few games how it goes."
"They can think whatever they want," said head coach Lindy Ruff. "They're going to have their own opinions of us. I'm going to worry about how we're going to play.
"They should feel good about themselves. They had a tremendous record, swept Atlanta and have a lot of aspects of their game that are going well. We know this is going to be a tremendous challenge."
One area where the Sabres were lacking against the New York Islanders during the opening round of the playoffs was in the emotion department.
The pressure of an anticipated thrashing by Buffalo in the perceived David versus Goliath match-up weighted heavy on the team. Buffalo waited for New York to lace up their slingshot and fire the stone that would end their season, instead of finishing off their opposition.
The result was a closer than expected five-games-to-one series victory.
"It was the first time we were supposed to be the team that won," said Ruff. "It wasn't supposed to be close. We were supposed to be better in every area. The Islanders weren't given a lot of credit.
"That pressure kind of mounted and it was a different place for a lot of our players."
The fatal shot never came and the Sabres are happy to have survived the best-of-seven series.
Lack of emotion certainly won't be a problem in Round 2 after Monday's rattle. Many experts are already predicting an upset by New York, while the Rangers words are fueling the Sabres passions and sense of pride.
Avery's comments were dismissed as "Avery being Avery," but it doesn't mean they didn't have an impact.
The longest tenured coach in the league said the responsibility for keeping Buffalo disciplined and under control, despite the agitator's antics, falls solely on his own shoulders. Using himself as a shield for his players is an active post-season strategy Ruff has employed in the past.
"Avoid Danny Briere running around trying to fight [Avery]?" joked Ruff referencing Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk's fight with Avery in the first round. "There are players who are agitators. Their goal is to get people off their game. My goal is to keep our players on our game. I have to succeed at that."
Harsh words can be a powerful motivator and fuel for Buffalo's fire. One fact was prevalent from last season, the Sabres thrive when challenged or disrespected.
"I agree with that," said Ruff regarding Briere's statement about the banter being good for Buffalo. "I've always had the outlook that you've got to kind of hate your opposition. Get in and starting hating them."
Asked if he hated the Rangers yet, Ruff responded in kind.