Brad Boyes has been living in a hotel for the last five weeks, enough time to learn a few things about Buffalo other than the significance of 4 a.m. He's found everything he needs is within a 20-minute drive. And he's quickly come to realize a large portion of our population pays close attention to the Sabres.
Boyes spent significant time in St. Louis and Boston, good hockey towns until the Blues and Bruins hit the skids and fall off the sports radar. The Blues are a distant third behind the Cardinals and Rams. The Bruins trail the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, political backstabbing and hating the Yankees.
In Buffalo, at this time of year, and with the Bills going nowhere soon, it's about the Sabres. The signs are everywhere, from crossing swords on downtown storefronts to snorting-goats flags outside car windows to barroom brawls with opposing teams' fans to playoff beards.
And that's just our women.
"Just being around town, you see the amount of Sabres paraphernalia that's around," Boyes said. "People support the team here. They're wearing the stuff. They're out there and you get recognized a little more. It's different. It's something I wasn't used to in St. Louis. This is a hockey town. People know what they're talking about."
OK, then let's skip the small talk.
If the Sabres are going to beat the Flyers in the best-of-seven series, Boyes needs to produce and justify Buffalo's decision to add him to the payroll. He was the first player the Sabres acquired after Terry Pegula introduced a foreign concept that calls for winning, regardless of cost.
Boyes is making $4 million and is signed through next season. He's one of the Sabres' top offensive players, but he failed to score for a 14th straight game in a 4-2 loss to the Flyers in Game Three. On Monday, he epitomized a Sabres team that had plenty of scoring opportunities and its best offensive performance but failed where it mattered most -- on the scoreboard.
"I had chances," Boyes said. "It was a matter of putting them in. You have to go where the goalie's not. I'm feeling better with the chances, but it's the time of year where you have to score."
The Sabres had other problems Monday. They made major mistakes in their own zone that cost them goals. Chris Butler had a major gaffe. Steve Montador had another giveaway that turned into Nikolay Zherdev's winner.
All things considered, the series is about right. The Sabres outplayed the Flyers on Monday night and lost. Philadelphia outplayed Buffalo in Game One and lost. Philly was rewarded for being the better team in Game Two.
Buffalo could have won Monday if it buried its scoring chances. Paul Gaustad, Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford combined for 20 shots, which is good. Everybody else combined for 17 shots and no goals, which isn't good enough.
Boyes had his share, too. He has been quiet for nearly a month. He hasn't been terrible, and he hasn't been alone. He's just been there, like an old lamp in the corner of the room. He was practically invisible in Philadelphia before playing much better Monday in Game Three.
His stat line after three games: 0-0-0, five shots. In Buffalo, you stick out when you disappear.
"I'm banging my head against the wall and still looking for answers," Boyes said. "I've been through ups and downs before. It's a matter of keep putting pucks on net. Keep shooting and keep getting into certain areas."
And to think he couldn't have asked for a better start after he arrived. He had five goals and eight points in 10 games before learning about the Big Blue Water Tower. He looked like an ideal fit. And then kaput.
Boyes is a good guy and a good player. He's not hiding from the fact he's been nowhere good enough in this series, which is honorable. But it still comes down to production.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff moved the top-six forward to the fourth line in hopes of getting more. Boyes has played center out of necessity but is better along the wing. He was flanked by bangers Cody McCormick and Mike Grier in the first period and played a few shifts at right wing after Patrick Kaleta was injured.
"He had several good looks," Ruff said. "By far, it was his best game."
Boyes was intent on getting around the net in Game Three after spending the first two games on the perimeter. The Sabres' first five goals of the series were scored from close range. They were so-called garbage goals.
The next step for Boyes is picking up the garbage and helping the Sabres clean up the mess.
"You hopefully keep playing to get those chances," Boyes said. "I have to keep getting to the net more and bouncing something in, whatever it is, just throw pucks on net. I feel like I did that more. But it's about results."