Bruins vs. Sabres Series Preview
For the first time since 1999 and second time since the May Day series of 1993 the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres will meet in the playoffs when they drop the puck from the HSBC Arena.
The Bruins, in as the No. 6 seed, fought tooth and nail to hang in the playoff race from March on, eventually beating out Montreal and Philadelphia in points. Buffalo nearly went wire-to-wire in the Northeast Division, mainly thanks to a season in which its key players finally stayed healthy.
But despite the 10 point disparity between the two teams that was generally higher throughout the season, this is a matchup that truly could go either way. Boston went 4-2 against the Sabres this year (though two of those wins came against Jhoans Enroth and Patrick Lalime), and Buffalo only scored eight goals in 270 minutes played against Tuukka Rask, while Boston was 0-2-2 against Ryan Miller.
Here's a quick breakdown of each team, and I think you'll find why the matchup is fairly tight.
Strengths -- Penalty kill and goaltending. By now I'm sure everyone has seen the highlight where the Bruins scored three SH goals against Carolina on the same penalty kill. And while the explosion of goals may have been a surprise, the ability to kill of a penalty with ease certainly isn't. Boston finished with the third best PK % in the NHL, thanks to Selke candidate Patrice Bergeron and Sabres castaway Daniel Paille.
In net, Tuukka Rask took over the number one job tentatively in early February and for good in March after Thomas was pulled from games against New Jersey and Buffalo less than halfway through the game. The 23 year old Fin led the NHL in both save percentage and goals against average.
Weaknesses -- Goal scoring/Power Play and defense. Thanks to dropoffs in production from nearly everyone on the roster, the Bruins finished 30th in goals for this season. Since losing Marc Savard, I think the Bruins somehow managed to have a negative percentage on the power play. And despite lofty defensive numbers, Boston is ravaged by injuries on the blue line as top-four defenders Dennis Seidenberg and Mark Stuart will miss the series and Andrew Ference will play but will likely be limited thanks to another groin injury. On top of that, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid will be playing their first NHL playoff games and Matt Hunwick will be playing just his second.
Wild Card -- Marco Sturm and Michael Ryder. Two guys who were supposed to lead the Bruins offensively instead disappeared in the final weeks when Boston was fighting for a postseason spot. Ryder had two goals and Sturm had one against Washington in the final game, hopefully building momentum for the postseason. But if the Bruins get nothing out of these two, they'll instead be firing wrist shots on a par-3 on May 1.
Strengths -- Penalty kill and goaltending. Remember how I said how the Bruins were third in PK %? Guess who's second. Yep, Buffalo. And do I even need to talk about Ryan Miller? Captain America carried Team USA in Vancouver and he's been on top of his game throughout the NHL season. No matter how the guys in front of him are playing, Buffalo always has a chance to win with Ryan Miller in net.
Weaknesses -- Defense, secondary scoring. Believe me when I say I know what it's like to have Steve Montador playing meaningful postseason minutes, and it's not a good thing. Combined with a bit of regression from Craig Rivet and Andrej Sekera, and there are reasons to believe Boston can score a little this series. As for the secondary scoring, Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy can pretty much be counted on, but can Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville step their games up? Will youngster Tim Kennedy step up, and will Raffi Torres bring what the Sabres acquired him for?
Wild Card -- Tyler Myers. No, I didn't forget. The likely Calder Cup finalist will be getting his first taste of NHL postseason action. If he plays like he's been there before and remains a top-line force, I think Buffalo will win this series. If the bright lights and different game are too much for him, I don't see Buffalo having enough to offset his struggles.