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Playoff Preview: Flyers and Sabres

Stanley_Cup_PlayoffsA look at the opening round meeting.
(7) Buffalo Sabres vs. (2) Philadelphia Flyers
@ Philadelphia, Thursday 4 / 14, 7:30pm
@ Philadelphia, Saturday, 4 / 16  5pm
@ Buffalo, Monday, 4 / 18 7pm
@ Buffalo, Wednesday 4 / 20 7:30pm
@ Philadelphia, Friday 4 / 22 7:30pm  **
@ Buffalo, Sunday 4 / 24 3pm  **
@ Philadelphia, Tuesday 4 / 26 TBD  **

** If Necessary

Philadelphia 47-23-12 106 points / Atlantic Division Champions / 3-4-3 in last ten games.
Buffalo 43-29-10 96 points / 3rd place Northeast Division / 8-1-1 in last ten games.

Of all the teams to play in the first round, this is the one the Flyers may have wanted the least. The NHL playoffs are all about goaltending  and the Sabres have a definite edge there. Ryan Miller is a game stealer. He won 34 of the 66 games he played in with a goals against of 2.59. He is a former Vezina Trophy winner  that lead the Americans to a silver medal in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Keep in mind he did suffer an upper body injury late in the season, but seems to have recovered from that. His backup, Johnas Enroth chipped in with a 9-2 record with a 2.73 goals against.
The Flyers will counter with rookie Sergei Bobrovsky who recorded 28 wins with a goals against of 2.59 in 54 games. But "Bob" was yanked early in the season finale against the Islanders after giving up 3 goals on 10 shots in just 12 minutes. Prior to that he gave up 4 goals each in loses to Buffalo and Ottawa down the stretch. Back up and veteran Brian Boucher is close by. Boucher posted 18 wins in 34 games with a goals against of 2.42.
On defense, the edge goes to Philadelphia....even without Chris Pronger. In his first year as a Flyer, Andrej Meszaros was voted the teams top blue liner and lead the way with 8 goals and a plus 30. Matt Carle very quietly had a solid year, also a plus 30 with 40 points. Braydon Coburn has the size and strength to neutralize the oppositions top scorer. Kimmo Timonen is steady back there and Sean O'Donnell adds a degree of toughness. Erik Gustafsson, Danny Syvert and Nick Boytnton will have to step up until Pronger returns.
That leads us to Pronger, out the last month with a broken hand. Will he be back? He says so. When? Nobody knows. But when he does, how effective will he be holding a stick and shooting on the power play? He is key there. And the fact that the Flyers play with a little more edge when the big guy is on the ice.
Buffalo is lead by young, 6'8 Tyler Meyers. The former first round pick is also a Calder Trophy winner as the leagues top rookie last season. Myers 10 goals is second to Jordan Leopold's 13. Leopold is trying to return from a broken hand suffered in late March. His return is uncertain. You won't get alot of offense from Andrej Sekera or Steve Montador, but their steady with good plus/minus numbers.
When Danny Briere and Chris Drury both left Buffalo for free agency, the Sabres set their sights on re-signing one guy long term right away: Thomas Vanek. He has responded with 136 goals in the four seasons since. Briere in the same time span? 103. Along with Vanek, Buffalo has former first round pick Drew Stafford. (31 goals) Stafford had not scored more than 20 goals in a year in his 4 previous NHL season. Jason Pominville and Tyler Ennis are both 20 goal scorers. And 5'5 Nathan Gerbe showed the Flyers his goal scoring skills on the final weekend of the regular season.
The Flyers are just plain deep at the forward position. Four lines with four different styles with the top three able to score goals on a consistant basis. The team has 8 forwards with at least 19 goals each. Plus the addition of Kris Versteeg at the trade deadline along with his Stanley Cup ring won in Chicago last year only makes this group scarier.
For the Sabres to win? Ryan Miller has to be well...Ryan Miller. If the Flyer offense gets going, he will be tested. Second line scorers like Pominville, Ennis and Brad Boyes have to score. Vanek and Staffard need help. The Sabres also will need to continue to take advantage of the power play opportunities. They did not got a lot of chances this season but when they did they did well.
For the Flyers to win? Protect the goaltender! Clear shooting lanes and clear any rebound from out in front of the net. Expect Danny Briere to be big in this series against his former team. The power play needs to improve and take advantage of the fact that the Sabres are one of the leagues worst at giving up short handed goals and the Flyers are one of the leagues best scoring them. JVR are you listening? Now is the time to play consistently like the number two overall pick in the NHL draft. And getting Chris Pronger back will help.
Jeff's Prediction: The Flyers go limping into the post season. The Sabres steal one of the first to two games in Philly and send the Flyboys home for the summer. Sabres in six. Boy I hope I'm worng.
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