Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Buffalo vs. Ottawa

Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Buffalo vs. Ottawa

Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Buffalo vs. Ottawa
May 7th, 2007

(Sports Network) - The Buffalo Sabres, this year's Presidents' Trophy winner, nearly had their backs against the wall in their last playoff series, but were able to fight their way out of the predicament and reach the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight year.

The Sabres nearly fell behind three games to two in the conference semifinal series against the New York Rangers, but were able to tie Game 5 with just 7.7 seconds left in regulation and then won the contest early in the first overtime.

That dramatic victory changed Buffalo's objective from winning Game 6 on the road just to stay alive to closing out the series in New York. The Sabres would post a 5-4 victory at Madison Square Garden to end the best-of-seven set in six games.

The series win over the Rangers sums up how difficult it is to beat Buffalo in a playoff series. The Sabres simply have too much firepower at their disposal, and confidence in their ability to score keeps the club from panicking in seemingly desperate situations. It also helps to have an All-Star goaltender like Ryan Miller between the pipes.

It's not surprising that centermen Chris Drury and Daniel Briere have led the way for the Sabres in this postseason, as they have been the sparkplugs for the team all year long.

Briere is leading Buffalo with 11 points (2 goals, 9 assists), while Drury is second in points with 10 and first in goals with seven.

Drury, who scored the all-important tying goal in Game 5 against the Rangers, is just three tallies away from matching Gilbert Perreault for the most goals by a Buffalo player in one postseason. Perreault, a Hall-of-Famer, had 10 goals for the Sabres during the 1980 playoffs.

Winger Dainius Zubrus, a trade deadline acquisition, has also proved to be a tremendous asset so far in the playoffs. The 6-4, 226-pound Zubrus has notched eight assists in the postseason and has given Buffalo an added physical presence.

Thomas Vanek has notched five goals and two assists for Buffalo in the playoffs, but the Austrian winger failed to record a point in the final four games against New York.

In addition to their offensive output the Sabres have also done a solid job by giving up just 24 goals in 11 postseason contests. Buffalo has a deep defensive corps that includes the likes of Brian Campbell, Dmitri Kalinin, and Teppo Numminen, but Miller has been the most consistent line of defense for the Sabres.

The 26-year-old Miller has been superb in this postseason, posting an 8-3 record, 2.07 goals against average and .928 save percentage. The American backstop has yielded two goals or less in eight of his 11 playoff games this year.

The Sabres possess tremendous depth and an excellent goaltender, but the team has still struggled in special teams in these playoffs. Buffalo has scored on 9-of-59 (15.3-percent) of its power-play opportunities and has surrendered nine goals on 49 shorthanded situations (79.6-percent).

The Sabres, who have never won a Stanley Cup title, will be trying to reach the final round for the first time since 1999, when they lost to Dallas in six games. Buffalo failed to reach the Stanley Cup finals last year, as they lost a grueling, seven-game conference final series to eventual champion Carolina.

OTTAWA SENATORS (4th seed, East)

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 48-25-9

2007 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Pittsburgh 4-1 in conference quarterfinals; defeated New Jersey 4-1 in conference semifinals

(Sports Network) - The Ottawa Senators have been labeled as disappointing playoff performers in recent years, but they are trying to shed that image in this year's postseason.

The Senators have advanced past the first two rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs by winning each series in five games. Ottawa disposed of Pittsburgh in the opening round and followed that by bouncing New Jersey in the conference semifinals.

Ottawa, which is in the postseason for the 10th straight year, came into the playoffs this year with just three series wins of five games or less in franchise history. The club has still never earned a sweep in 16 all-time playoff series.

The Senators are in the Eastern Conference finals for the second time in club annals and for the first time since losing in seven games to New Jersey in 2003.

Ottawa has been led in this year's postseason by a stellar trio of forwards that form one of the most formidable lines in all of hockey. Jason Spezza centers the line and is flanked by wingers Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley. It doesn't come as a shock that those players are the top-three scorers for Ottawa in the playoffs.

Heatley, who posted a team-high 105 points during the regular season, is leading the Senators in scoring so far in this postseason, as he has notched a team-high 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists). Spezza is next with five goals and seven assists and Alfredsson, the team captain, is third in points with 11, but first in goals with six markers.

The Senators have also received some offensive output from their blueline, as Tom Preissing has posted two goals and four assists. Fellow defensemen Wade Redden and Joe Corvo have also added five points apiece for Ottawa.

Ottawa has displayed its scoring touch all year long and actually finished second in the NHL with 286 goals in the regular season. Buffalo was first in the league with 298 tallies.

The Senators also have had a great asset in goal this postseason, as 24-year- old netminder Ray Emery continues to come into his own. The Ontario native shrugged off a poor 2006 postseason to go 8-2 with a 2.04 goals against average and .919 save percentage this year.

Emery has also posted his first two playoff shutouts in this postseason and outplayed the legendary Martin Brodeur in the last series against New Jersey.

The Senators have been the best team in this year's playoffs in terms of power-play percentage as they have scored on 22.7-percent (10-of-44) of their opportunities with the man advantage. Ottawa has been decent in penalty killing, denying opponents on 43-of-50 (86-percent) power-play opportunities.

MATCHUP

This series pits a pair of bitter division rivals against one another and for that reason it has the potential to be the best matchup in this year's playoffs.

The Sabres and Senators played eight times during the regular season and the hostilities reached a peak on February 24, when the teams engaged in a nasty brawl that featured all 12 players on the ice, including the goaltenders.

Buffalo wound up winning the Northeast Division title, but the Senators held the upper hand in the season series as they posted a 5-3 record against the Sabres this year.

The Sabres and Sens have met three times in playoff series and Buffalo is 3-0 in those series. The clubs met in last year's conference semifinals and Buffalo won that set in five games. The Senators are just 4-12 all-time in playoff tilts against the Sabres.

Stopping the Senators' top-line will be a key for Buffalo in this series, but Ottawa may have the tougher task in trying to contain the balanced scoring attack of the Sabres.

Both teams have young goaltenders who have had great postseasons up to this point, but the netminders still have plenty left to prove. This series should reveal a great deal about Miller and Emery.

Ottawa will get their share of goals in this set, but the Sabres' ability to bear down and grind out wins when necessary will ultimately lead them to the Stanley Cup finals.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Sabres in 7

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Re: Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Buffalo vs. Ottawa

Eastern Conference final preview and pick
Mon, May 7, 2007
By Jon Campbell

Ottawa Senators vs. Buffalo Sabres
Series price: pick ‘em -115
Game 1 odds:  Buf -140, 5

Hockey fans have been waiting, hoping and praying for this series since Feb. 22. That was the night all hell broke loose at HSBC Arena when Chris Neil caught Buffalo team leader, Chris Drury, heading up ice with his head down and put him out with a concussion.

The hit sparked the most fantastic – or brutal, depending on your perspective – line brawl the NHL has seen in recent memory. The hilights included a smiling Sens goalie Ray Emery going toe-to-toe with Sabres goalie Martin Biron and then taking on tough guy Andrew Peters. The Sabres ultimately went on to win in a 6-5 shootout to make for what is probably the most exciting regular season game since the new NHL arrived.

That’s a lot to live up to, but this series has all the potential to meet the hype.

Both teams enter this series healthy. They were the two highest scoring teams in the NHL in the regular season and remain so in the playoffs. Throw in the fact they just plain don’t like each other and we’ve got a nasty little series here. It’s no wonder oddsmakers have set it as a pick ‘em at -115 for both sides.

Ottawa was one of the few teams to get the better of Buffalo this year, the team with the best record in the regular season. The Sens went 5-2-0-1 in eight meetings and Ottawa managed to score at least four goals in four of those games.

Ottawa hasn’t slowed down in the scoring department, but it’s been its defensive play that has analysts and bettors singing the Sens’ praises. Though the Sens are the highest scoring team in the postseason, the  under is 5-3-2 through their first two series. Defensmen Anton Volchenkov, Chris Phillips and Wade Redden are playing their best hockey of the season and Emery is making all the saves he should while limiting rebounds.

The speedy Sabres will be the toughest test so far for the Senators and they may have learned something from watching Buffalo’s series with the New York Rangers.

New York did a great job of trapping Buffalo on the forecheck as the Sabres came out of their own end, while putting the puck deep and working it around the boards on the offensive end to keep from getting into a track meet with Buffalo. That helped the Rangers win two games in the series and nearly a third. Games 2 through 5 in that series were all decided by a score of 2-1, prompting oddsmakers to continually drop the total in the series. In the end, though, New York couldn’t match their speed and firepower and Buffalo took Game 6 Sunday afternoon, 5-4.

The Sens might try the same approach in trying to contain the Sabres, but the difference is they have more depth and speed than the Rangers. Ottawa is one of the few teams in the league that can roll four lines with Buffalo, which it showed when it dominated another deep team, New Jersey, in the second round.

The difference in this series could come down to goaltending and Buffalo’s Ryan Miller gets the nod in that category. He hasn’t been getting quite the same recognition as some of the other big name goalies in the playoffs but he has been playing some stingy hockey between the pipes.

Miller is only behind the two Anaheim goalies in save percentage (.928) among the netminders remaining in the playoffs. As long as he doesn’t get involved in any fisticuffs, Buffalo has the edge over Ottawa.

Pick: Buffalo seven games

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