The Boston Bruins without Marc Savard is a dream matchup for any team, but it quickly turned into a nightmare for the Buffalo Sabres.
The Bruins, behind the incredible play of rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask, eliminated the Sabres in six games on Monday night.
“It was an extremely tight series,” head coach Lindy Ruff told the Associated Press after Game Six. “The teams couldn’t separate. There wasn’t much breathing space the whole series. They scored two power-play goals, and we didn’t get any. We made some mistakes in the series, some mistakes we’d like to have back. Overall, it wasn’t good enough. That’s the bottom line.”
So how did the Sabres manage to be upset so easily?
Buffalo’s special teams were appalling. Actually, they were the worst they’ve been all season.
The Sabres’ power play was ranked 17th during the regular season, converting on 17.6 percent on the man-advantage—17.6 percent better than they would do in the postseason.
Buffalo went 0-19 on the power play in the playoffs, the worst of any team. While the power play was bad, it wasn’t unexpected. The Sabres’ bread and butter during the regular season was their penalty kill.
Buffalo’s PK was ranked second in the NHL, killing an impressive 86.6 percent of penalties, but that was not the case in the playoffs.
In the playoffs, the Sabres killed off just 16 of 22 Boston power plays—that’s 72.7 percent. Forget about a slight decline, at a time when the special teams needed to be just as good, if not better, than the regular season, they were at their worst.
Injuries also hurt the team.
If Thomas Vanek and Jochen Hecht had not missed any time, the Sabres more than likely would have skated away with the series.
Vanek’s presence, or lack thereof, was immediately felt after he left Game Two with a leg injury.
Hecht’s defensive abilities would have been useful in Game Two and Game Four when the Sabres let two big leads slip away.
While the injuries hurt, the fact that no player stepped up into a biggest role hurt a little more.
I won’t include Ryan Miller in this, because it is a given how well he played.
There weren’t many players to choose from; one of which was Steve Montador.
Despite having an inconsistent and often sloppy regular season, Montador rebounded and came to play in the postseason. He was third on the team in ice-time during the first round, averaging just a hair under 24 minutes per game.
Montador also blocked 12 shots and was a plus-three overall.
However, Buffalo’s best player throughout the first round was rookie Tyler Ennis, who used his quick acceleration to keep Boston off guard and set up several nice goals.
The 20-year-old led the team in shots and points when their offense was almost non-existent, and proved that he will be a cornerstone on this team for the foreseeable future.
Ennis’ play was one of the few positives that Buffalo can take away from the first-round catastrophe.
There were a lot of players who had a bad opening/closing round for the Sabres: Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad, and Andrej Sekera just to name a few; but nobody was as bad as Tim Connolly.
After leading the team in points for a majority of the regular season, Connolly had just one point in six playoff games and was a team-worst minus-two overall.
Connolly missed the Sabres’ last nine regular season games with an injury, and may have not been 100 percent heading into Game One—either way you slice it, Connolly needed to be great and he wasn’t.
It should be a somewhat busy offseason for the Sabres who will have a number of players leaving town.
Buffalo will have to find replacements for defensemen Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder within the organization or sign a pair of new d-men.
Mike Grier was one of Buffalo’s more solid forwards in the postseason and his defensive play and hard work was appreciated all season long—whether or not the team resigns him is a different story.
Patrick Lalime will be leaving town which leads to the question: Who will be backing up Ryan Miller next season?
One choice is Jhonas Enroth who has been honing his skills with the Portland Pirates in the AHL the last two seasons. The 21-year-old Swede has incredible instincts in net, and those instincts make up for his lack of size.
And then there’s Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier; the two are the longest-tenured coach-GM duo in the league, but might not be for long.
The Sabres have done fairly well under Ruff, but have disappointed the last few seasons. The latest debacle against the Bruins may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Regardless of what happens, Buffalo will be a very interesting team to watch in the offseason.