Ooh! Aah! Sabres on the warpath!

On the eve of game 1 of the Sabres vs Flyers first round playoff matchup I thought I’d weigh in on my thoughts, feelings and lastly predictions for this intense rivalry. Since this is my blog I am allowed to do so, so there! When thinking of Buffalo many point to in division teams as rivals (Toronto, Ottawa, etc.) but to me the Flyers have closed the gap on most hated in the 716. As Steve Levy at ESPN put it “To have a real rivalry you have to meet in the playoffs” and that these two teams have. Since 2000 the Sabres and Flyers have met in the post season 3 times with one matchup going to the Flyers and the other two to the Blue and Gold. It’s gone down like this:

2000: Flyers 4-1 – Eastern Conference quarterfinals

2001: Sabres 4-2 – Eastern Conference quarterfinals

2006: Sabres 4-2 – Eastern Conference quarterfinals * This series contained one of my favorite Sabres playoff moments of all time when Brian Cambpell flattened RJ Umberger. After Soupy unloaded on him, the kid’s never been the same.

Now jump to 2011 and these two teams are back at it again, Phili as the #2 seed and by the slimmest of margins Buffalo as the #7 seed (tied with MTL in pts for the #6 seed but had less regulation wins). Therefore it’s safe to say the Sabres have their hands full in this one, right? Not so fast my friend. Coming into the Playoffs Buffalo is one of hottest teams if not THE hottest team in the league, having gone 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Swing to the other end of the spectrum and you have the Flyers playing some of their worst hockey of the season having gone 3-4-3 in the last 10 games.

I know I know this is the playoffs and the regular season is thrown away and anything can happen, but momentum is momentum and the Sabres have it while the Flyers don’t. Further more the emergence of Jhonas Enroth as the Sabres primary backup goalie over the last 2 weeks of the regular season was HUGE for Buffalo. When Miller went down with his upper body injury it looked as though that could seal the teams fate, but alas young Enroth stood tall (much taller than his 5’10” frame would typically allow) and kept this team playing at the highest of levels. This also gave Miller the rest he so badly needed after having to play in 66 of the teams 82 games this season.

The Flyers on the other hand enter the playoffs with questions in goal (WHAT’S NEW??? It still needed to be stated). The young Bobrovsky will start with the veteran Boucher waiting in the wings (yes he’s still around). My guess would be that Boucher gets a start before the end of this series. The Flyers also come in with a big question mark in the injury column as Chris Pronger has been injured since March and it looks like he will miss at least the first game of the series. Former Sabre now Flyer Danny Briere seemed pretty sure earlier in the week that his teammate would miss at least 1 game, but backed off of the statement the next day (cat got your tongue Danny boy, or should I say Laviolette got it?)

However, this is enough about the past, let us look to the future! (ooo, ahhh)

After having read articles previewing this matchup from experts and bloggers alike it is safe to say that while the Sabres are the underdog in the standings, they are a popular upset pick in the first round. On ESPN’s website they polled 8 of their anchors/columnists and out of the 8, 6 of them picked the Sabres to upset the Broad Street Bullies. If your interested in who picked who you’re in luck!

Matt Barnaby (former Sabre): Sabres in 7

John Buccigross: Sabres in 7

Scott Burnside (Flyers writer so big shocker with this pick): Flyers in 5 (seriously Scott, 5 games? ok…)

Linda Cohn: Sabres in 6 (atta girl Linda! She is a big Rangers fan FYI, must be feeling the upsets, she has Rangers taking their series in 7 against the #1 seeded Capitals)

E.J. Hradek: Sabres in 6

Pierre LeBrun: Sabres in 7

Steve Levy (Two shout outs in one post, damn he’s cool): Sabres in 7

Barry Melrose (As usual the mullet continues his dislike of the Blue & Gold): Flyers in 5

Everyone seems to think this series is going 6 or 7 games except Barry and Scott, hmmm (I’m sure they were both dying to pick the Flyers to sweep, but just didn’t have the stones to do it.)

Two points I’d like to make before I give you my prediction (I know you can’t wait it’s obviously the highlight of the post…) The first is that as much as I love everything that has happened since Terry Pegula purchased the Sabres, I do not believe it will directly affect this series. Sure he’ll make sure HSBC arena is rockin’ for games 3 and 4 (and 6 if necessary, I know Scott and Barry don’t think so) and the Party in the Square before and during the games will be equally exciting. However, the game takes place on the ice and between the players so Terry I love ya, but this ones up to the boys in the sweaters.

The second point is the coaching rivalry between Lindy Ruff and Peter Laviolette is almost as good as the Sabres Flyers rivalry itself. Going back to Lavies days in Carolina these two have been going at it hardcore. I won’t dwell on this, but if people think Bryan Murray and Ruff went at it a few years back during the Senators series, think again. Look for the little shots to start during the press conferences and boil over as this series gets underway.

IT IS NOW TIME FOR MY PREDICTION!

I would love to sit here and say I think the Sabres will take this thing hands down in a sweep or even a 5 game series, but unfortunately I have common sense and am lacking a mullet. That being said I see this series going to the bitter end, the full 7 game tango. I cannot sit here and ignore the fact that the Flyers finished with 106 points (1 point off from the Eastern Conference leading Caps). I can’t ignore the fact that the Flyers finished 3rd in the league in goals per game with 3.2 or tied for 5th in the league in wins with 47. That being said I also can’t ignore the Sabres ridiculous run, their tremendous play late in the season and the passion that this team has displayed over the last month since Terry Pegula purchased the team from Tom Golisano and co.

I think in the end it comes down to the goal tending and while Bobrovsky has had a great year, he isn’t Ryan Miller. I give the series to Buffalo in 7.

I do feel that whoever wins game 1 though will make it very difficult on the other team to take the series. In a playoff series with teams that have this much disdain for one another and both draw strength in the others weaknesses, the first game can be the difference in just about everything. If Buffalo can grab the lead early and Miller is his typical self than game 1 should go to Buffalo. We need to remember that while the game is in Phili at Wells Fargo Arena the Sabres were actually a better road team than they were a home team this season (22-13-6 on the road vs 21-16-4 at home). With a rested Miller, a more than capable backup in Enroth and a young, hungry, talented and hot team in the Sabres, the #2 Flyers better watch out (o and same goes for Barry and Scott!)

League Update: What a great start to the 2011 playoffs! All the games so far tonight have been great battles and they’re not done yet. What a goal by Alex Semin to win it for the Caps. The current standings as off 11:42pm EST are as follows:

Pitt 3- TB 0 (Pitt leads series 1-0)

Det 4- Phx 2 (Det leads series 1-0)

Was 3- NYR 2 OT (Was leads series 1-0)

*Nashville is up on Anaheim in the 2nd and Vancouver (as they should be) are leading Chicago in the 2nd.

That’s all from me for tonight. I am returning to the 716 (my hometown) tomorrow through Tuesday and am looking forward to surrounding myself with fellow Sabres fans and friends to watch this showdown. Hopefully when I return Tuesday night the Sabres will be up 3-0 and will have won all 3 comfortably (hey a guy can dream right?) I’ll hopefully be blogging about my thoughts following the game tomorrow night and if not then on Friday. Let me know if you agree/disagree with my thoughts/predictions, after-all what are the playoffs without some friendly bickering?

LET’S GO BUFFALO!!!


Game 1: Thursday April 14 at Philadelphia, 7:35pm (MSG, VERSUS & TSN)

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