The Buffalo Sabres are on their way to the playoffs, but it is still a mystery as to which team they will play in the first round.
Buffalo has been on a roll as of late and is 10-3-1 in its last 14 games. Head coach Lindy Ruff is confident that the Sabres can continue their winning ways by using the team’s depth as its main weapon.
“We look at all lines as lines that should be able to produce,” Ruff told the Associated Press Wednesday night after the Sabres 6-2 win over the Florida Panthers.
As of now, the Sabres are in second place in the Eastern Conference and would be playing against the Boston Bruins in the first round, but there are still three other possibilities—the Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, and Montreal Canadiens could all end up playing Buffalo in the playoffs’ opening round.
Let’s take a look at how the Sabres would fair against their potential opponents.
The Bruins would not be the worst team in the world for the Sabres to play in the first round.
Buffalo is 2-1-2 against Boston this season with one loss coming in a shootout; so for the sake of the playoffs, the Sabres are 2-1-1 against the Bruins.
Also, the one regulation loss was Buffalo goaltender Jhonas Enroth’ NHL debut, so let’s make that 2-0-1 against the Bruins.
The Bruins may also be without Marc Savard, who is still recovering, slowly, from a grade two concussion.
Savard is without a doubt the most talented offensive player for the Bruins who are currently dead last in the league in scoring.
However, the Sabres would have some serious trouble if the Bruins go with rookie Tuukka Rask in goal for the playoffs—which they more than likely will.
Rask has a .950 save percentage and has not allowed more than two goals in a game against Buffalo this season.
Overall, this is a favorable match up for the red hot Sabres.
Seeing as Buffalo has not beaten the Senators in over a year, this is a team that the Sabres definitely do not want to play in the first round. Luckily for Buffalo, there isn’t a good chance that this series will happen.
The Sabres are 0-4-1 against the Sens this season and have been outscored 18-9.
One loss was in a shootout, and another had the never reliable Patrick Lalime in goal for Buffalo, so “technically” the Sabres are 0-3 against Ottawa—still not a favorable record.
Ottawa goalie Brian Elliot is 4-0 with a .949 save percentage and a 1.80 GAA against Buffalo this year.
Sabre-killers Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza have tormented Buffalo all season as well.
Alfredsson has five goals and seven points in four games against Buffalo, while Spezza has three goals and seven points in just three games against the Sabres.
Buffalo needs to avoid this potential matchup like smallpox. Well, actually, smallpox isn’t around anymore, so that was a bad comparison—but you get my meaning.
I’m still on the fence about this one.
The Sabres have won the season series 3-1.
The Flyers have truly underperformed this season. And with season-ending injuries to goalies Ray Emery and Michael Leighton, things seem to keep getting worse.
Philadelphia’s depleted goalie situation leaves them with Brian Boucher as the starter for the playoffs.
Boucher is 5-16-3 with a save percentage under .900 and a GAA well over 2.50 this season. He has played just one game against the Sabres since the lockout; a 2-1 shootout win back on Jan. 12, 2006.
The Flyers’ leading scorer, Jeff Carter, is also having surgery to repair his broken left foot with the hopes of returning for the playoffs.
But judging from the regular season, this series will be heavily reliant upon special teams—something the Sabres have owned the Flyers in all season.
Buffalo is 5-16 on the power play and 12-12 on the penalty-kill against Philadelphia this season.
Okay, I just convinced myself and am no longer on the fence. This is definitely a favorable match up for the Sabres.
The Sabres opened up their season with an overtime loss to the Canadiens, and haven’t lost to them since.
Buffalo is 4-0-1 against Montreal this season; one of those wins was in a shootout, so I’ll stick to my rule and say that they are really 3-0-1.
Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Tim Connolly, and Jochen Hecht have feasted on the Canadiens this year—they have combined for 18 points and a plus-11 rating in just five games.
It looks like Jaroslav Halak will be the starting goaltender for Montreal in the playoffs, which presents an interesting situation for the Habs.
Halak is 0-2 with a .844 save percentage and a horrendous 5.04 GAA against Buffalo this season.
However, Montreal’s other goalie, Carey Price, is 1-1-1 with a .963 save percentage and a 1.29 GAA against Buffalo this season; this might be some incentive to go with Price over Halak.
Even if the Canadiens decide to go with Price, this is still the most favorable matchup for the Sabres in the first round.