TORONTO – Victor Antipin's season is likely over. Scott Hartnell's continues uninterrupted and the Buffalo Sabres are thus very unhappy with the NHL's version of justice.
The Sabres announced Sunday that Antipin is out indefinitely with a concussion, broken nose and dental issues suffered when he was plummeted into the boards from behind by Hartnell Saturday night in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. Meanwhile, the league's Department of Player Safety did not hold a hearing on the play, ruling that the major penalty and game misconduct Hartnell received were sufficient.
And while the Predators paid a heavy price in the game, as the Sabres scored the decisive three goals in their 7-4 victory with Hartnell in the penalty box, the Sabres are known to be furious with the league's inaction.
"We were very disappointed that Victor was injured from the hit last night," Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill said in a statement issued Sunday night to The Buffalo News. "While we strongly disagree with the decision made by Player Safety earlier today, our main concern right now is Victor's well being and recovery."
Through a team spokesman, Botterill declined further comment Sunday night.
Hartnell took the warmup but was a healthy scratch for the Predators Sunday night in Tampa. The league ostensibly ruled that Antipin turned into the hit and that the Predators were penalized heavily enough on the ice with the infractions.
Antipin was knocked out on the play and was down for nearly 10 minutes before he was removed from the arena on a stretcher. About 1 a.m. Eastern time Sunday, the Sabres announced Antipin had been released from Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
The Sabres will press on Monday night in Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs. There won't be a need for a recall as Buffalo is traveling with eight defensemen; Josh Gorges and Nathan Beaulieu sat out as healthy scratches on Saturday. The team flew here from Nashville Sunday morning and took the day off.
Following Saturday's game, Hartnell insisted he was merely finishing his check.
"I was on the forecheck, saw the guy reverse the puck. (The hit) wasn't late," Hartnell told Nashville reporters. "I just tried to rub him out and I think his chin hit the glass. You see a guy laying there and your stomach gets turned upside down. It's an unfortunate play. ... You're taught as a young kid to finish your checks. I wasn't head-hunting. We were leading the game at the time. It's just unfortunate and I feel really bad about it.”
The Sabres turned a 4-3 deficit into a 6-4 lead thanks to two goals from Sam Reinhart and a third from Kyle Okposo.
"Five-minute penalty and they score three quick ones, and that's really ballgame," said Hartnell. "I didn't try to hurt the guy. It was just kind of a hockey play. Those plays happen 10, 15 times a game."
"Victor is a great guy and we were taken back by what happened there," said Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson. "We kind of kept pushing forward. It was a weird game overall, goals both teams scored, weird deflections, refs getting hit with pucks. I don't know if it's a full moon tonight or what. I don't know the last time I was part of a game like that but it was great we recovered."
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Jack Eichel had his first career five-point game in the win as he assisted on five of the seven Buffalo goals. With four games left, Eichel established new career highs for assists (37) and points (62), even though he missed 15 games with his high ankle sprain. The five-point output put him back in range to finish as a point-a-game player. He enters Monday at 62 points in 63 games.
Four of Eichel's five assists came in the second period, three on the decisive power play. He became the youngest Sabres player to post five-plus points in a game since Pierre Turgeon, who was also 21 when he had a five-point game at Toronto on Jan. 14, 1991.
"It was good to see some of those go in on the power play for us," Eichel said. "We kept it simple, tried to move it, take what they gave us and I thought we were all on the same page."
Eichel put himself on a pretty elite list of Sabres that have five-assist games. It also includes Gilbert Perreault (1976 at California, 1980 vs. St. Louis, 1984 vs. Winnipeg), Dale Hawerchuk (1992 at New Jersey) and Pat LaFontaine (1992 at Los Angeles and vs. the New York Rangers, and 1993 at Winnipeg).
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* Vagaries of plus-minus Exhibit A: How can a player on a winning team have a five-point night and still finish minus-1? Because four of Eichel's assists were on the power play. Eichel is at a career-worst minus-22 for the season.
* The win in Nashville allowed the Sabres to improve to 8-3-1 in their last 12 road games, leaving them at 14-17-7 on the season with three games to play. They have 35 road points on the season, which entered Sunday just one less than a group of five teams that includes playoff-bound Pittsburgh and Minnesota and playoff hopeful Colorado.
* Buffalo's problem, of course, is its woeful home record. At 11-24-5, the Sabres have four fewer wins and nine fewer points than every NHL team in their home buildings. Perspective on how dominant home teams need to be? Fourteen NHL teams entered Sunday with at least 24 home wins and five others were at 21+.
* The bizarre trends in the all-time series against Nashville continues as the road team has won the last six meetings. Buffalo is 9-4 in the Music City against the Predators, having won three straight. But the Sabres are just 1-10-1 against Nashville in KeyBank Center. The only win came in 2008 and the Sabres are 0-4-3 in the seven games since.