TEN DAYS AGO, the Tampa Bay Lightning was shut out, 3-0, by the Washington Capitals in Orlando. The Lightning mailed it in, and they had excuses.
There was the trade deadline the next day, and the Lightning already had shipped out three veterans. The team also had to take a two-hour bus ride to play what was supposed to be a home game.
Phil Esposito, the Lightning's general manager, didn't buy the excuses. He was outraged at the lack of effort. He vowed he wouldn't tolerate any more of it.
If the Lightning needs a graphic illustration of how important it is to show up for every game, the team should pay attention tonight in the Aud when one of its assistant coaches, Danny Gare, is inducted to the Sabres' Hall of Fame.
In Sabres history, Gil Perreault stood for grace and style. Jim Schoenfeld stood for toughness. Craig Ramsay and Don Luce stood for finding a way. Rick Martin stood for power. Mike Ramsey stood for endurance and Mike Foligno for leadership.
Danny Gare stood for the refusal to give up. He had a heart like a blowtorch.
Anyone familiar with Sabres lore knows that Gare scored on the first shot of his rookie season, that he scored 50 goals in his second season, that he still shares the team record for most game-winning goals in a season (11) with Alexander Mogilny, that he still holds the team record for game-tying goals in a career with 21.
But that's record-book stuff, and Gare was about much more than records or goals.
He was at his best in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Hall of Famer Perreault scored 33 career playoff goals to Danny's 23, but Gare, who played 33 fewer games than Gil, scored overtime goals against Montreal, St. Louis and the New York Islanders.
It was in the 1980 semifinals against the Islanders that Gare was clearly defined as a great player. The Islanders won the first three games, including two in Buffalo, to virtually close out the series. The Islanders were physically pounding Buffalo, and few Sabres were willing to pound back. Gare was among the few.
Buffalo's 56-goal scorer also was the guy riding shotgun for the team. It was not a new role for him. In 1975-76, the little guy had not only scored 50 goals but led the Sabres in penalty minutes.
Game after game Gare battled with Clark Gillies, the big forward. It was as if Pat Sajak were dropping gloves and confronting Hulk Hogan. When he wasn't dueling with Gillies or Bob Nystrom, another Islanders heavyweight, Gare was having his legs clubbed by Billy Smith, the villainous goaltender.
After Bob Sauve shut out the Islanders in Memorial Auditorium to bring Buffalo within 3-2 in the series, Gare was so spent he couldn't celebrate. Smith had hacked his ankle until it was the color of a Ukrainian Easter egg. He had never given an inch to Gillies. He had just enough strength to collapse on the locker room bench.
He showed up for the next game, though, and banged Gillies and Nystrom as hard as they banged him, right until the end.
The previous January, the superb Red Army team had come to the Aud for a highly-charged exhibition game against the Sabres. In those Cold War days, the "exhibitions" were exercises in combat.
The Soviet referee called an outrageous delayed penalty on Gare, leading to a goal that cut the Sabres' lead to 2-1. Moments later, Gare led a furious charge down right wing at Vladislav Tretiak, the great goaltender. Gare fought off checks and virtually willed the puck to the goal mouth, where Derek Smith swatted it past Tretiak. Buffalo went on to win, 6-1.
"We had the pride of North American hockey at stake," Gare explained.
It didn't count in the standings, but that was the only way Danny knew how to play it.