Sabres welcome Senators for Game 1 of East finals

Sabres welcome Senators for Game 1 of East finals

Sabres welcome Senators for Game 1 of East finals

May 10th, 2007
(Sports Network) - The Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators will resume a heated rivalry on the big stage tonight, when the top-seeded Sabres host Game 1 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals at HSBC Arena.

This series pits a pair of bitter division combatants 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 faced off 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.

Buffalo, this year's Presidents' Trophy winner, nearly had their backs against the wall in their last playoff series against the New York Rangers, but were able to win that series in six games and reach the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight year.

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.

Sabres goaltender Ryan 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, who have never won a Stanley Cup title, will be attempting 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.

Meanwhile, the Senators have been labeled as disappointing playoff performers in recent years, but they are trying to shed that image in this postseason.

The fourth-seeded 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 current playoffs 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 the 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 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.

Buffalo was 28-10-3 as the home team during the regular season, while the Senators posted a solid 23-12-6 mark as the visiting club.

The second game of this series is scheduled for Saturday evening at HSBC Arena.

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