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RAZOR AND BOLTS TAKE THE GLOVES OFF

Lindy Ruff reached straight for the jumper cables Thursday night. One end was connected to Rob Ray, the other to Eric Boulton. Charge!

The two were positively electric. Sparks and bodies flew right off the opening faceoff. Currents of appreciation surged throughout the crowd as their second shift ended with fights two seconds apart, Ray against Jeff Odgers, Boulton against Denny Lambert, battles waged to recoup the Sabre honor and dignity left behind during the loss on Tuesday night in Atlanta.

There's a school of thought that fighting has no place in the National Hockey League. Nonsense. Those demanding of peace at all costs never have played for a reeling team that has lost seven of its last 11, a team that had become so faceless Mom wouldn't recognize it, the Sabres of 2001.

This isn't to say Ray and Boulton stamped a new identity on the franchise during Buffalo's 3-1 victory over the Thrashers Thursday night at HSBC Arena. You can't very well become the band leader when you get less playing time than the last song on a bad CD. What was made clear by their efforts is that players of their ilk, beloved at home and targets of derision on the road, are on occasion equal in value to a 40-goal scorer or an all-world goaltender.

"You got to have a ton of respect for Razor and Bolts," Stu Barnes said. "That's a difficult job, a very difficult job, to go out and to show everybody that, 'Hey, we want to win this game and we're ready to do what we can to win this game.' It sends a message all the way around the team."

The Sabres were anything but deceptive about their intentions. Atlanta's starting line consisted of Ladislav Kohn, Patrik Stefan and Tomi Kallio, the last two virtuous enough to be courting Lady Byng. Ruff countered with Ray and Boulton flanking Erik Rasmussen.

"They started those guys against two Czechs and a Finn," observed Atlanta coach Curt Fraser. "Surely something was going to happen."

"If our line's going out there and starting a game then you know you're out there for a reason," Ray said. "You're not out there to score a goal. You're out there to get the momentum on our side and get it in, work it, hit a few guys and try to get them sitting back so our second and third line go out and take advantage of it.

"The line we started out against, with Kohn and them, they were motivators for them last game and they were hitting and wheeling and dealing and they created a lot of momentum for them. So we were able to slow them down early."

Ray had to content himself with banging bodies during his opening shift. He has far too much respect for the sanctity of the game than to lure a lightweight into combat and then pummel him ruthlessly. He knew a spot on the fight card was probably no more than a shift away since Odgers had sought a rematch Tuesday night after an earlier meeting of their pugilistic minds.

"We had talked during last game after the last fight that he wanted an opportunity," Ray said. "I didn't think Lambert would fight me and I knew it was time to get something going that's why I kind of switched wings with Bolts (to match up with Odgers). Jeff's a guy that's very willing all the time and he does his job well."

The adrenaline comes rushing at the drop of a glove. Ray, a wily veteran, knows very well how to channel his aggressions. He's schooling Boulton, who calls himself the team's "backup tough guy" to do the same.

"Bolts and I talked about it before then that I was going to get in a fight there and (he had to) just be careful because second man in you're out of the game, it's a game misconduct," Ray matter-of-factly explained. "So he held back and waited for his opportunity. You got to communicate that way."

The puck had barely left the hand of the linesman before Boulton was going at it with Lambert, blinding the Thrasher with his own jersey, further energizing a crowd and a team badly needing a boost.

"They wanted to get things going right away," said Fraser, "knock the beehive out of the tree."

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