TAMPA, Fla. -- Chris Butler, chatting with the media just prior to the Buffalo Sabres' game against Tampa Bay, was in a great mood. The defenseman was finally returning to the lineup after a six-game benching, and things couldn't have been much better.
It appeared his fine mood would last a whole 2 minutes, 17 seconds. Butler was injured on his first shift against the Lightning and was helped to the dressing room.
Butler had already sent a pass out of the Sabres' zone when Todd Fedoruk came calling. The 232-pound forward hit Butler, and the defenseman got twisted and dropped. Athletic trainer Tim Macre ran onto the ice as Sabres captain Craig Rivet shed his gloves and instigated a fight with Fedoruk.
Butler missed the rest of the first period but returned at the start of the second.
Butler isn't the bitter type. Still, getting scratched in six straight games can take a toll on a player, so folks kept stopping by to give ego boosts during his stay on the sidelines.
"Everyone's been really good to me throughout the whole process," Butler said. "Harry Neale [the Sabres' broadcast analyst] came over to me the other day and said, 'When I was with the Detroit organization we scratched Steve Yzerman.' Am I going to be Steve Yzerman and score Stanley Cup-winning goals? I have no idea, but it just kind of reassures you that this isn't the end of the world."
Butler does hope, however, this is the end of the benchings. It was his first appearance since a minus-2 showing March 3 versus Washington.
"I'm excited. It's not any fun when you're sitting out, especially when you're healthy," Butler said. "It was maybe a little more extended than I hoped for, but hopefully it's over with. I'm looking forward to moving on.
"There's a lot of things you can always be better at, and that's what I'm going to try and do here down the stretch, to continue to improve and help anyway that I can."
Butler said he learned quite a bit watching the games from the press box. He said the defensemen need to play tighter in the defensive zone, something Butler also needs because coach Lindy Ruff said he doesn't want the 23-year-old to be a minus player anymore. He entered Thursday's game a team-worst minus-12.
"We talked a little bit this morning that we just need to be strong in our D-zone," Butler said. "That's our responsibility as defensemen. Whether offensive opportunities come out of it with joining the rush, that's the second thing. Focusing on the defense is going to be first."
Ruff scratched blue-liner Andrej Sekera to make room for Butler. Drew Stafford missed his fifth straight game with a groin injury.
The Sabres, as usual, had their share of blue-and-gold-clad backers in Tampa. A portion of them were on hand to honor Dave Andreychuk Foundation Night. The foundation of the former Lightning and Sabres left winger has three goals: to assist children in need; to support causes for children and families enduring chronic and life-threatening illness; and to encourage investment in youth and amateur sports.
Dave and Adam's Card World has partnered with The Steadfast Foundation to distribute a limited-edition autographed 2010 Winter Games Ryan Miller lithograph.
The oversized print is an action shot painted by sports artist Rob Bailey. The lithographs went on sale Thursday at Dave and Adam's Card World's two locations and have been signed by Miller, who helped Team USA capture the silver medal with an MVP performance during the Olympics.
There will be a total of 639 prints available. Cost starts at $179. Proceeds go to The Steadfast Foundation.
The collectible stores are at 2790 Sheridan Drive in Tonawanda and 5575 Transit Road in Williamsville.