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Blindside hits ruling expected soon

The NHL and its Players Association continue to work on temporary legislation that would allow suspensions for blindside hits to the head and it's possible a rule could be in place as soon as Friday's games.

Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller and Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell, the ex-Sabre, are among five players on the Competition Committee working on the proposal, which has already been approved unanimously by the league's Board of Governors.

The players issued a joint statement Wednesday, declaring: "We have deliberated and endorsed to the NHLPA Executive Board the League's proposal to implement supplemental discipline this season for blindside hits to the head. Our Executive Board will vote on this recommendation and we will respond back to the League with a decision in the next 24-48 hours."

The issue became a lightning rod over the last couple of weeks when Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke knocked out Boston star Marc Savard with a hit that did not draw a suspension because it did not draw a penalty. General managers agreed that would need to be penalized next season but critics openly pointed out it could be open season on the ice the rest of this year.

"That hit scared me," Miller said prior to Wednesday's game against Montreal. "I thought that was a dangerous play and there's no room for that in our game. I thought there have been a lot of hits this year that people have said were borderline. But in my opinion of hockey, they're not borderline. They're just bad hits.

". . . Hockey has always been about playing hard and I get that. I love the way guys play hard and go for the puck. Hitting has always been about separating the man from the puck and doing it so you don't hit the guy in the head or from behind or in a vulnerable situation. Somehow, it became OK to do all this and it's not."

Following the morning skate and after the media left the locker room, coach Lindy Ruff gathered the players and showed them a league-issued DVD on the new mandate. It showed hits that are considered dangerous and illegal and it's believed Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta was shown as one of the culprits.

The infamous 2007 hit by Ottawa's Chris Neil on ex-Sabres captain Chris Drury was also used as an example of a hit the league wants eliminated; at the time, of course, that play was considered legal and Neil got no penalty and no suspension.

"The Drury hit was part of that video and we lost a good player for a good period of time," Ruff said. "Other teams have lost good players. I think it's the right thing to do. There are still good hits that are hard hits but I think they've done a good job describing the hit they want out."

Miller wasn't that concerned about a rule change taking place just prior to the playoffs. Safety in the big concern.

"Sure, we're adding a rule but it's common knowledge within the rules you can't make a hit like this and it was a technicality that they couldn't suspend guys," he said. "What we're talking about is a dangerous situation. We're trying to take the predatory situations out of the game."

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Tough night on the injury front. First, Tim Connolly got stitches to the nose after taking a puck to the face. Later in the second period, Kaleta left with a sore neck. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder crawled to the bench with seven minutes left in the third after striking his head on the ice. There were no updates on Kaleta or Tallinder.

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The Sabres are 4-6 in shootouts and Montreal fell to 7-4. Buffalo is 10-10 in overtime this year, while Montreal is 15-8.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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