PITTSBURGH -- If you circled games on the Buffalo Sabres' schedule in the summer, Thursday night's game in Consol Energy Center was certainly one of them.
The return of Dan Bylsma for his first game against the Pittsburgh Penguins is one of the big stories in the NHL this week. The Sabres come into it on the high of Tuesday night's overtime win in Philadelphia, a place that was Bylsma's chief rival when he was the Penguins' coach from 2009-2014.
"There will be emotions," Bylsma said this afternoon after the Sabres' practice in Consol Energy Center. "I'm not going to be moved to tears but it's going to be emotional. Even right now, I look at the empty seats and I'm gonna know 50 faces in the stands tomorrow where they sit. I know where my family sat when they were here. There's certainly going to be emotions. But there were emotions when I went into Philly last night as well."
Bylsma, of course, led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009 but only took the team as far as the Eastern Conference final one other time and that resulted in a sweep by Boston in 2013. Bylsma was fired after the Pens, a 109-point team in the regular season, blew a 3-1 lead to the Rangers in the 2014 East semifinals.
"I got the opportunity to coach a great team and a great group of players in a great organization," Bylsma said. "That was a great opportunity for me and it happened for 5 1/2 years. We had some successes and some wins and we had some losses and we had some disappointments. There doesn't need to be any reconciliation."
Bylsma said he harbors no animosity to the Penguins, even though they left him hanging for three weeks that spring after first firing GM Ray Shero.
"I don't look back on it and begrudge anybody," Bylsma said. "I knew after we lost to the Rangers that I wasn't going to be back. Whether that was four weeks later or whatever, I knew. We needed to win, we needed to win a Stanley Cup."
The Sabres worked out minus Tyler Ennis and Sam Reinhart, both of whom Bylsma said were on maintenance days. The Penguins play tonight in Washington (8 p.m., NBCSN), so there's a good chance that goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will get his first night off of the season against the Sabres and backup Jeff Zatkoff will get the start.