Sabres-Bruins: Round One Playoff Preview

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Sabres-Bruins: Round One Playoff Preview
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Your opinion on this series depends on where you stand as a hockey fan.

If you like all out offense, no defense and shaky goaltending then this is not a series for you.

If you prefer suffocating defense, outstanding goaltending, low scoring games then you are probably pretty amped up for this series.

No doubt about it, these two teams are hardly that much different from one another. They are almost mirror images despite what the season ending point differential states.

This is definitely the ideal match up for the Bruins. Heading into the final two games of the season they could have played any one of the top four teams. They did what they had to do and moved up to the sixth spot to square off against the Sabres.

The scenario facing the Sabres was a little different heading into their final regular season game on Sunday against the Devils. The Sabres were one point behind the Devils and had to win the game in regulation to secure the second seed.

Buffalo did the unusual and pulled their goalie in the final minute of a 1-1 tie. It can be argued that this was done because one point would not help them in moving up to the 2nd slot if it did go into overtime. This is a fair point. But the motive behind that move can be questioned.

Did they do it because they wanted to go all out and try for the best seed possible?

Did they do it because they knew that an empty net would allow a better chance for New Jersey to score, thus setting up a first round match up with Boston, avoiding Philadelphia?

Or did they do it because they wanted to score six on five and claim the second slot and play Philadelphia, avoiding Boston? 

Unfortunately we will never know the true motive behind the unusual, but hardly ridiculous, move.

What we do know is that this will be a very close series, no matter which angle you look at it. Boring or entertaining, it will be close.

Here is a look at how the teams stack up against one another.

 

Key Players

Buffalo: C Derek Roy (26-43-69), Tim Connolly (65 points in 73 games), Jason Pominville (24-38-62), LW Thomas Vanek (28 goals in 71 games), D Tyler Myers (11-37-48)

Boston: C Patrice Bergeron (6th in NHL in faceoff %), C David Krejci (17-35-52), RW Mark Recchi (team leading 8 power play goals), LW Marco Sturm (led team with 22 goals), D Zdeno Chara (+ 17, team leading 242 shots)

 

Regular Season Head to Head

BOS 4 BUF 2

BOS 2 BUF 1

BUF 2 BOS 1

BOS 3 BUF 2

BUF 3 BOS 2

BOS 3 BUF 1

Boston wins 4-2

 

Buffalo Offense vs. Boston Defense

Buffalo: 10th in league

Boston: 2nd in league

Buffalo has the ability to throw some pretty good lines at opponents. Tomas Vanek did not play up to the ability that he showed last season. However, he can still put the puck in the net, as evidenced by his five goals in the final two games of the regular season.

The Sabres top line of Vanek, Roy and Pominville is very solid. After that it remains a mystery due to injuries. Connolly, Jochen Hecht and Drew Stafford if healthy can add secondary scoring depth that Boston cannot match.

Boston finished second in total defense this year thanks to a system that is an awful lot like New Jersey's, who finished first. The only problem is that Boston's defense faces the same issues that Buffalo's offense does. They are severely banged up.

The Bruins have been getting by the last week with four defensemen (Chara, Dennis Wideman, Johnny Boychuk and Matt Hunwick) playing more than 25 minutes a game.

Rumor has it D Andrew Ference (hernia) could be ready for Game 1 which would help take some of the heat off the other four. Dennis Seidenberg (severed wrist tendon) will be out for another six weeks and Mark Stuart (hand infection) is likely out for the first round.

Edge: Boston

 

Boston's Offense vs. Buffalo's Defense

Boston: 30th

Buffalo: 4th

This match up hardly seems worth any more analysis than the given team ranks.

Without Marc Savard the Bruins have been unable to put the puck in the net with any kind of consistency. They have a bunch of complimentary players but no studs that opposing teams need to watch out for.

Buffalo on the other hand plays great defense led by Myers, Steve Montador and Henrik Tallinder.

Edge: Buffalo

 

Special Teams

Buffalo power play: 17th

Boston penalty kill: 3rd

Boston power play: 23rd

Buffalo penalty kill: 2nd

Edge: Even

 

Goaltending

Ryan Miller, BUF: 41-18-8, 2.22 GAA, .929 SV %

Tuukka Rask, BOS: 22-12-5, 1.97 GAA, .931 SV %

Before February only hockey fans knew who Ryan Miller was. Then he (and Zach Parise) carried Team USA to a surprise silver medal in the Winter Olympics. His terrific play should not come as a surprise to any one who has watched hockey over the last four years.

Before this season names like Luongo, Broduer, Lundqvist and Nabokov would be mentioned before Miller as far as top goalies in the NHL goes. Not anymore. Miller has proved to not only NHL fans, but to the hockey world that he deserves to be in that group, if not at the very top.

A shoe-in for the Vezina Trophy this year, Miller is without a doubt the reason why Buffalo can go very far this postseason.

Speaking of Vezina Trophy winners, the Bruins have one of their own. Only problem is he (Tim Thomas) will not be starting in net this series if all goes according to plan.

Rask has played well all season but it wasn't until last week, against these very same Sabres, that it was evident that Rask should be starting in net more often then Thomas.

Rask had a 4-1 record against the Sabres this year. Not included in that record are the 19 shots that he faced, and stopped, while relieving Thomas of his duties on March 29th. Miller went 2-2 against the Bruins this year. 

Miller has already been through the grind of the Olympics. He will only have the pressure of Sabres fans on his back this spring, compared with the whole nation's in February. Rask on the other hand, has yet to play a playoff game.

Edge: Buffalo

 

Series Prediction

The Sabres should win this series. Does that mean they will? Maybe. One thing I can assure you of is that every game will be close.

I'm predicting a shut out for each goalie. Rask in game two, Miller in game four. Neither team will score more than three goals in a game. Only one game will be determined by more than one goal. I'll say Buffalo 3-1 in game one.

Boston has proven that they can win on the road, but what has really hurt them is their inability to establish any home ice advantage. Boston loses game six at home up 3-2, then heads back to Buffalo where the Sabres finish them off. Buffalo in 7.

 

 

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