William Carrier was at the forefront of one of the Sabres’ more physical games of the season. He wasn’t there for long.
The Buffalo rookie busted open his hand during a first-period fight Thursday and didn’t return to the 4-2 loss to Boston. With both linesmen trying to stop Carrier and the Bruins’ Adam McQuaid from throwing punches, the Sabres winger nonetheless tossed several overhand bombs.
At least one caught McQuaid’s visor or teeth, creating a gash on Carrier’s right hand.
“I don’t think the hand injury was just the gash,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said in KeyBank Center. “He’s had a hand injury for a while, and I think he’s just further down the road with his fight.”
Bylsma wasn’t sure if Carrier would miss more time. The Sabres entered the game with 12 healthy forwards, so a recall from Rochester would be needed if Carrier can’t play Saturday in Boston.
Carrier became an enemy of McQuaid and others with a first-period hit that knocked David Backes from the game. After the Boston forward dumped the puck into the Buffalo zone, Carrier came from Backes’ blind side and hit him square in the chest.
Officials called Carrier for an illegal hit to the head. When the forward left the penalty box, McQuaid instigated the fight.
“It was a clean body check through the body,” Bylsma said. “I didn’t like the penalty call.”
Boston coach Claude Julien didn’t like that the linesmen were holding McQuaid while Carrier was throwing punches.
“It can be dangerous, but hopefully somebody will deal with it and make it better for next time,” Julien said. “I respect the job they do. Certainly, those linesmen are never rewarded enough. … I’m sure they’ll approach that situation and talk about it and fix it so it doesn’t create a dangerous situation like it did.”
The Sabres came out physical against the Bruins, racking up 14 hits in the first period. They added 12 more in the second but just four in the third.
“We played the right way the first period,” left wing Nicolas Deslauriers said. “The second we kind of held back a bit. It was a typical playoff game out there. The momentum changes.”
Whenever Tyler Ennis tried to hit top speed, his body said no. That’s when he knew surgery was the only option.
“I have to be able to skate fast and be agile and be quick,” Ennis said. “If I don’t have that then I’m pretty useless out there.”
In an attempt to regain his footing, the Sabres forward underwent sports hernia/groin surgery in early November. He practiced with his teammates Thursday morning for the first time since the operation. Sports hernias typically take two months, so the winger likely has another week or two before returning to the lineup.
Ennis had just one goal and one assist in 12 games before the surgery. The swift-skating, crisp-cutting winger was playing without those weapons.
“It was just kind of gradually getting worse,” he said. “It reached the point where I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. It was frustrating.
“I had to get it looked at and found out there were some tears and stuff. I had to get them sewn up. I’m doing a good job healing.”
The surgery was part of a rough 13 months for the 27-year-old. He had a concussion in November 2015, then suffered a season-ending concussion last December. He was limited to just 12 games this calendar year.
“It’s about as tough a thing as you can go through as a hockey player,” Ennis said. “We all want to be out there. Hockey’s our life, so it’s frustrating. But I know that once I get my body healed up 100 percent, I’m going to be a better player.”
After acquiring Dmitry Kulikov, the Sabres couldn’t wait to see what he could do. They’re still waiting.
Kulikov continues to feel the effects of a preseason collision with the boards, and he sat out Thursday. The lower-back ailment has forced him out of 15 of Buffalo’s 35 games and hindered him in many that he did play.
“It’s something that Dmitry’s dealt with for a long time,” Bylsma said. “It just flared up really over the break with three days off. We’re hopeful that not playing in this game he’ll get better, he’ll get some recovery from it and get back.”
Buffalo expected Kulikov to anchor the top pair with Rasmus Ristolainen this season, but the 26-year-old has no goals, one assist and a team-worst minus-10 rating.
“It’s been a challenge for us,” Bylsma said. “He just hasn’t been able to be there in the first 34 games on a regular basis, and we need him to desperately get back in there.”