After a bad 3-2 double-overtime loss to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night, the Buffalo Sabres are one game away from elimination in the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and there are plenty of people to blame.
The recent string of injuries is obviously hurting the Sabres, who have been without superstar Thomas Vanek for the last three games and defensive-forward Jochen Hecht for the whole series.
Buffalo normally relies on all four lines to do damage, but when certain pieces are taken out of the equation, it is much tougher for the team to succeed.
Tim Connolly has been a ghost against the Bruins. The 28-year-old has just one point and 10 shots in four games.
Derek Roy, the Sabres' leading scorer during the regular season, also has just one point and 11 shot in four games.
With Vanek out of the lineup, Connolly and Roy needed to pick their games up and carry the team, but they have done the exact opposite thus far.
Where the Sabres were solid in the regular season, they have somehow faltered in the playoffs.
Buffalo was 30-6-4 when scoring first in the regular season. So far in the playoffs, the team has scored first in all four games, but is just 1-3 overall.
“If they can win three we can win three. But it starts with just winning one, to get ourselves back on track,” Sabres goalie Ryan Miller told the Associated Press after the loss. “I don’t know, for whatever reason we need to protect the lead. Geez, it almost would be better if we got scored on first.”
Another big statistic heading into the postseason was that the Sabres were a perfect 30-0-0 when leading after two periods. They have blown two leads in the third period in this series—a big reason why the series is 3-1 Boston as opposed to 3-1 Buffalo.
Boston has also outscored Buffalo by a score of 6-0 in the third period.
The special teams are a whole other issue. Buffalo is now 0-14 on the power play and has surrendered three goals while on the penalty kill.
But the biggest problem for the Sabres in the postseason has been head coach Lindy Ruff.
After a disappointing Game Two, which saw the Sabres blow a two-goal lead and a third period lead, Ruff began to switch up the lines for Game Three.
The Sabres went up early in Game Three on a goal by Mike Grier, but after a long shot drought, Ruff lost faith in his newly constructed lines and began mixing things up again; this is never a good sign.
Mixing up lines in the middle of the game is the offensive equivalent to changing goalies—it just shows that Ruff did not have confidence in the lines he was putting on the ice.
Game Four was the same story for Ruff and the Sabres.
Ruff, the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, put center Paul Gaustad on a line with Connolly, who is also a center.
The idea of the Gaustad-Connolly combo was to add some size to Connolly’s line to give him more space. While the line did account for one of the Sabres’ goals, it was a major disappointment overall and had a lot of trouble getting into the Bruins’ zone.
Miller has been very good throughout the series, and although he did let in a “soft” goal to tie the game on Wednesday night, he made several unbelievable saves in overtime to keep Buffalo in it.
Despite the solid efforts of a few Sabres, it appears that this season will be another letdown in Buffalo.
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