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Vancouver and Boston… Can they both lose?

Tonight, the 2011 edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs begin their conclusion as the Vancouver Canucks host the Boston Bruins in Game 1.

Usually, even after your favorite team is eliminated, you can pick one team and pull for them for your own personal enjoyment. This season? Trying to pick between the two teams is like picking between cancer and hepatitis.

First, we have Boston.

Boston, the beleaguered, tortured fanbase, whose city has gone an agonizing stretch of having the Red Sox (two), Patriots (three) and Celtics (one) win championships in the last decade. The fans, who are as accomodating and friendly as a rectal probe, deserve to see a winner, right?

Come on Sabres fan, would anything please us more than to see Zdeno Chara, our old friend, accept the Stanley Cup and pass it off to the beloved Mark Recchi?

Yeah, to hell with that.

Listen, I still have a soft spot for Daniel Paille, who had some good moments here in Buffalo before he got squeezed off the roster. I like Tim Thomas, who by all accounts is a great guy and one hell of a model American. But the rest of the Bruins can eat a fat one. Especially you, Milan Lucic.

2011 Stanley Cup Finals tickets

That leaves us Vancouver, who can become the first Canadian team to hoist the Cup since Montreal in 1993. If they win, good for them. If they don’t, good for America. For being “their sport”, it’s quite hysterical that no city north of the borders has claimed a championship in 17 years.

Is it so wrong to hope that it continues for another year?

Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, Playoff Edition: Game 7

And so it ends.

Facing a do-or-die situation in Philadelphia, one game to move on or go home, the Buffalo Sabres were outplayed from the outset. After a tight series of tight games, the Flyers never let the Sabres have a chance to advance in the decisive game, cruising to a 5-2 win to end Buffalo’s season.

It’s a frustrating finish to an exciting season. After being 20 minutes away from advancing in Game 6, the Sabres will regret the blown chances they had to close out the Flyers. Banged up and missing key players for the final showdown, the team couldn’t get it done.

“There were some guys who were able to muster up energy, some other guys played more than their role, but those guys emptied their tanks for me,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “For four months, we asked them to go above and beyond and they did.”

Ryan Miller was chased for the first time this series, giving way to Jhonas Enroth’s playoff debut after surrendering four goals. Tyler Myers and Brad Boyes added goals for Buffalo, but the outcome was never in doubt.

Philadelphia came out flying, outshooting the Sabres 16-2 in the first. Buffalo almost weathered the storm, with Ryan Miller standing on his head. The Flyers broke through when Mike Grier tried blocking a point shot from Philly’s Brayden Coburn, getting enough of it to throw off Ryan Miller and let it skitter between his legs with less than 20 seconds to go in the first.

The Flyers were able to pull away in the second, getting powerplay goals from Daniel Briere and James van Riemsdyk.

  • It was obvious early on that the Sabres looked completely different in Game 7 than they did all series, and the lineup was reflective of that. Derek Roy, Jochen Hecht and Mark Mancari all made their series debuts, and Andrej Sekera returned from injury. Any chemistry the team had going disappeared. It took a while for Lindy Ruff to find good line combinations, and the Sabres never recovered. Read the rest of this entry

Game 7: Embracing Uncertainty

Today won’t be easy.

Everyone’s going to spend their day at work or school, but it will be mindless. The clock will drag. Patience will be a rarity. That’s not your fault. Tonight is weighing heavy on your mind.

At 7:30 PM eastern time tonight, the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers will play for their seasons. One team moves on, one team goes home for the summer. Looking at the series from the start, there can’t be too many Sabres fans who would’ve turned down this proposition for their 7th seeded team. One game.

Looking back at the series, it might be a shame that Buffalo didn’t close it out sooner. They had their chances in Game 6. Philadelphia has left the door open enough, but the Sabres haven’t taken advantage.

Sure, there’s no Jason Pominville or Tim Connolly, both injured. It’s unsure what can be expected of Derek Roy, their leading scorer at time of injury, who will make his first appearance in a Sabres uniform since the calendar said 2010. Buffalo’s defense has looked sometimes solid, inexperienced at others. Ryan Miller has stolen two games in this series. Should he really have to steal three?

The Buffalo inferiority complex in your head may already be spinning ways it will go wrong or justifying the loss. Not surprising. The expectation of losing is passed down generation-to-generation in western New York. It’s just a defense mechanism.

For many Sabres fans sitting nervous today, 2006 looms large. “What if?” scenarios don’t go away. The Sabres have a relatively “fresh” fanbase, people who have latched on since the lockout. That day in Raleigh is the most painful thing they’ve dealt with. For me, 2001 is the painful memory, seeing a wrist shot from the circle end your season in an instant. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, Playoff Edition: Game 6

Things looked pretty good early on, huh?

Buffalo stormed out to a 2-0 lead in the first ten minutes, a game reminiscent of past series-clinching Game 6 blowouts of the Flyers. Even after Daniel Briere got loose and cut the score to 2-1, Thomas Vanek’s second powerplay goal near the end of the first seemed to ease the tension. But if there’s a lesson to be learned about this Flyers team, it’s that they don’t quit.

Scott Hartnell cancelled Buffalo’s third period lead and Ville Leino outworked Chris Butler to jam home a rebound at 4:43 of overtime to give Philadelphia a 5-4 overtime victory and force a decisive Game 7 on Tuesday.

Ryan Miller made 44 saves for Buffalo, while Brian Boucher got the win for the Flyers after the Sabres chased starter Michael Leighton.

“We haven’t done it the easy way, and we’re not going to bail out now,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “We’ve got to win the next one.”

Buffalo had to finish the game without Tim Connolly as the center, who throughout the series had been near the top of the roster in ice time, was injured after being boarded from behind by Philadelphia’s Mike Richards in the second period. Richards was given just a minor penalty and later added assists on the tying and winning goals.

He will not be suspended by the league, as stated by Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, and going along with the NHL’s track record of being clueless when it comes to supplemental discipline.

So, after an extremely tight six games, featuring two overtime decisions, we get Game 7 Tuesday. Buffalo’s fought their way this far. Will it end this week?

  • The thing I fear having to listen to after this series is that Peter Laviolette is a good coach. Philadelphia’s got a much better roster outside the crease, and there’s a reason they’re the 2-seed in this conference. His handling of his goaltenders has been abysmal. If he would’ve left Bobrovsky in this whole series, I think there’s a good chance they would’ve advanced already. Instead they’ve got the rookie who carried the load this season looking like basketcase in the press box. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, Playoff Edition: Game 5

The night had “trainwreck” written all over it.

After storming out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, Buffalo allowed Philadelphia to chip away at it in the second and tie it up in the third. On the verge of a historic collapse, all it took was a rebound from a Mike Weber point shot being jammed home by rookie star-in-waiting Tyler Ennis at 5:31 of overtime to give the Sabres a 4-3 win in Game 5 and a 3-2 edge in the series.

Ennis opened the scoring early, banking a shot off of Brian Boucher and in. Thomas Vanek utilized the same maneuver, and Boucher was chased when he was beat by Marc-Andre Gragnani on the powerplay to give Buffalo a 3-0 lead. With goaltender Michael Leighton making his first appearance in months, James van Riemsdyk, Andrej Meszaros and Daniel Briere scored for Philadelphia to tie it back up and send it to overtime.

But in the end, it was the rookie who was the most dangerous player on the ice all night that came away the hero.

“I liked the fact that we were able to regroup,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “I told the team that we just needed to relax. We needed to make more plays, and we did a tremendous job.”

Buffalo did end up with a loss on the night, as Jason Pominville left with an injury that appears to be severe. The forward was clipped on the back of the leg by the skate of Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk and did not return. Anyone who remembers Slava Kozlov probably isn’t holding out much hope, but word is that Pominville didn’t hurt his achillies.

So now, Buffalo heads home with a chance to close out the series Sunday at HSBC Arena, and Philadelphia heads north wondering who they’re going to put in goal to save their season. Who’s ready for Game 6?

  • This series is the first time in Sabres playoff history that they’ve faced three different goaltenders in one series. They’ve chased the original starter many times, but Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton are now in the record books. Read the rest of this entry

Allegedly tough Flyers whine about big, bad Sabres

Unfortunately, the “Perry Street Bullies” doesn’t have as much of ring to it. But looking at this series, with the historically rough-and-tumble Flyers and the supposedly-soft Sabres, it’s been a battle.

It’s almost impossible to think that this would’ve gotten to this point, but in a set knotted up at 2-2, it’s Buffalo setting the physical tone. Although the stats are usually sketchy, the hit totals through four games is Buffalo 117, Philadelphia 105. It’s been a very rough series, and the fact the Sabres got out of the first four games with a split against the defending Eastern Conference champions is a credit to them.

Instead of upping the intensity and fighting back, the Flyers are choosing to work the media.

“They’re getting away with murder out there,” Flyers captain Mike Richards said. “And we got called every time [Dan Carcillo] was on the ice. It’s frustrating, but we’ve got to battle through it. It’s a physical series.”

After getting shutout again to tie the series, the soundbites out of the Flyers are not what you’d expect out of a rough and tumble team. Philadelphia’s doing a good job thinking like they’re getting the short end of the stick, especially in light of the major penalty to Mike Richards for elbowing Patrick Kaleta in the face in Game 4.

“I saw him take a couple of strides towards me,” he said. “I had to protect myself.”

He’s got a point. I mean, I’m pretty sure Marty McSorley said “I was trying to kill a bug on the side of his helmet” after he clubbed Donald Brashear upside the head way back when. What else is he supposed to do? Take a hit? This is hockey. There is no physical contact in this sport.

I don’t know if that was truly worth a major penalty, especially based on some of the other penalties handed out on similiar plays in other games. If the NHL was going to be consistent about plays like that, I’m fine with it being a major. An intentional elbow to the face should be a major. But the inconsistency is the problem with it. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, Playoff Edition: Game 4

So that Ryan Miller is pretty good, huh?

A spectacular showing by Ryan Miller and a solid night from the Buffalo defense, with a little help from Jason Pominville‘s first period goal was what the Sabres needed to pull out a 1-0 win over Philadelphia to even the series at 2-2.

Miller made 32 saves in his second shutout of the series, including some show-stopping moments in the third period, such as denying Philly’s Daniel Briere on a chance in front of the net.

“He made saves he had no business making,” Sabres defenseman Chris Butler said. “It was absolutely phenomenal.”

The standout performance in the Buffalo goal took the spotlight away from Flyers goalie Brian Boucher’s stellar 29-save performance. Boucher’s save on a Tyler Ennis breakaway midway through the third period held the Flyers in the game.

Miller’s shutout came after two losses where his impact was being questioned by many in Sabres Nation. Needless to say, he responded. Now he’s got two clean sheets under his belt this series, and the teams head back to Philadelphia to start a best-of-three.

  • Lindy Ruff shuffled up his lines before opening faceoff, and for the most part, it paid dividends. The team came out flying and was able to grab the lead because of it. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, Playoff Edition: Game 3

(Apologies for the absence… if I don’t feel I get enough of the game to have opinions, I keep my mouth shut.)

The series is starting to slip away.

After winning a tight Game 1, the bounces just haven’t gone the Sabres’ way. After allowing an early goal that silenced the home crowd, the Sabres were never able to grab the lead and the Flyers walked out of HSBC Arena Monday night after handing Buffalo a 4-2 defeat, giving Philadelphia a 2-1 series lead.

“The results aren’t good enough,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “The problem is when you’re chasing the lead all night, you’re going to give up some opportunities. It’s tough to chase it. You don’t want to start off by giving them the lead.”

Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe scored for Buffalo. Marc-Andre Gragnani added two assists and is the only player on the Sabres with points in all three games.

Ryan Miller made 22 saves. After being spectacular in Game 1, he’s been decidedly average in the two losses. He sits in the middle of the pack among playoff goaltenders in every statistic, and has been outplayed by Brian Boucher since the Flyers stuck the veteran in net.

For a team that entered the postseason full of confidence, the team has looked lackluster and passive for most of the last two games. Can they snag a win in Game 4? There’s no reason they can’t. But based on their performance so far, it’s a little hard to see them winning three of the next four against a Flyers team that hasn’t trailed much since switching goaltenders.

  • Gragnani has been Buffalo’s best defenseman and arguably their best player so far this series. His four assists are tied for the league lead. He’s the only player with a positive +/- rating on the roster. Last season, it was Cody McCormick who jumped in and earned himself a contract and roster spot for next season. It’s hard to imagine Gragnani missing from the lineup come October at this rate. Read the rest of this entry

10 reasons why Buffalo will win Game 1

It’s playoff time.

Some Sabres fans may be anxious. Some may be worried. Some may be cocky. It remains to be seen how far the Sabres get in the postseason, but focusing on tonight, on Game 1, there’s reason to think it should turn out well.

Here’s some evidence.

  1. Under Lindy Ruff, the Sabres are 6-1 in the first playoff game of the postseason, the only loss coming in 2000. Overall, Lindy’s teams are 13-4 in Game 1 of a postseason series. The Sabres are always ready to play when the series starts.
  2. No Chris Pronger tonight.
  3. The Philadelphia Flyers are 2-7 in Game 1’s since the lockout. Only wins were last season, in the first round against New Jersey and the conference finals against Montreal.
  4. Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger will not be in the lineup.
  5. Since Ruff took over in 1997, this year’s 8-1-1 run in the last ten is the best finish to a season in which they made the playoffs. They also won 13 of their last 20 for the second time in that span, the previous being 2001, when the Sabres won Game 1 and the series over Philadelphia.
  6. In contrast, the Flyers’ 3-4-3 record in their last ten of the regular season is the worst tally of all 16 playoff teams. ‘Backing in’ is the phrase used here. Last season’s worst ‘last 10’ record was Colorado, at 3-5-2, who lost their opening round series in six games.
  7. Chris Pronger will be scratched.
  8. Philadelphia registered exactly zero shutouts this season. That would indicate odds are good that Buffalo will score a goal. Ryan Miller is capable of playing lights out. Will he? Who knows. He’ll be rested, thanks to the injury he sat out with for a couple weeks. But it’s an advantage in goal.
  9. In last season’s playoffs, Philadelphia was 5-6 in games they gave up a powerplay goal, 9-3 when they didn’t. Buffalo’s powerplay has scored in four of their last six games, and was ranked 9th in the league.
  10. The Flyers will play a bunch of defenseman and none of them will be named ‘Chris Pronger.’

And did I mention that Chris Pronger won’t be playing?

Puck drops at 7:30pm ET in Philadelphia.

Sabres/Flyers: A match made in ‘Hockey Heaven’

It makes sense, really.

Terry Pegula comes walking in here, gives a shot of life to the organization, and does everything he can to connect the present to the past. The team goes on a tear and sneaks into the playoffs, and who’s there waiting for the Sabres? The Philadelphia Flyers.

Is there a more perfect fit for the Sabres right now?

This will be the ninth playoff meeting between Buffalo and Philadelphia, now the most frequent opponent in the Sabres franchise’s history. It is the seventh time in the last 16 years that the two teams have faced each other in the postseason.

In tying the past with the present, it’s perfect. Pegula promised the franchise would respect the team’s past. Now they’re playing a team that we connect with the franchise’s history, the Flyers who slayed the Cup Finals team in 1975, bringing back memories of the French Connection days.

It’s also fitting for today’s team to be staring down the team in orange. We look at today’s Flyers and see Daniel Briere, a former fan favorite, now playing for the enemy. Former ownership couldn’t keep him around for the same reasons all Sabres fans are glad they’re gone. We’re tangibly facing the demons of past ownership. Defeating Philadelphia may just finish the exorcism.

But does anyone really care about that at this point? Read the rest of this entry