Stanley Cup Picks: Buffalo Sabres vs. Philadelphia Flyers Series Preview
The Philadelphia Flyers are back in the playoffs after making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, only to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks. They’ll look to take the next step by raising Lord Stanley’s Cup this season. To hoist the Cup though, the Flyers will need to get past the Buffalo Sabres, a team with perhaps the best goalie in the Eastern Conference. Read on to find out what our Stanley Cup playoff picks are for this series.
#7 Buffalo Sabres
How They Got Here: To get into the playoffs, the Sabres needed a victory over these same Flyers on Friday night. Buffalo went on a tear to close the season and assure itself of a playoff spot, going 8-1-1 in its last 10 games with four of those wins coming against fellow Eastern Conference playoff opponents. The Sabres have rode a surprisingly powerful offense to the No. 7 seed, despite being just 23-22-5 just a little over two months ago.
Player to Watch: LW Thomas Vanek has been phenomenal in pacing the Sabres offense this season. Vanek leads the team in goals (32), assists (41), and points (73) and has been a terror on the power play as well, notching 11 goals and 17 assists on the advantage. If the Sabres are going to get by the Flyers and reach the conference semifinals, Vanek will need to continue to put up points.
Goalie Outlook: Ryan Miller has had a down year compared to his usual high standards, but this is still arguably the most talented goaltender in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Miller put up a solid 34-22-8 record this season, but his GAA of 2.59 left much to be desired. His .916 save percentage was around the league average, but if he gets hot, Miller could lead the Sabres far into the playoffs. However, Miller was sidelined recently with an upper body injury and it’s unclear how healthy he is.
Key to Victory: Buffalo has one of the top 10 offenses in the league, and has a power play that is one of the best in the Eastern Conference, converting on 18.9% of its chances. Vanek and the Sabres will need to convert their chances and take advantage of Philadelphia’s iffy goaltending if they hope to reach the second round.
#2 Philadelphia Flyers
How They Got Here: For much of the season, it looked as if Philadelphia would cruise to the top spot in the Eastern Conference. After all, the Flyers were 40-15-6 late in February and had separated themselves from the rest of the East. However, they fell apart late, only managing to win seven of their last 21 NHL betting affairs. Much of the Flyers’ collapse is due to the loss of All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger, one of the best in the game. Pronger is dealing with a surgically repaired broken hand, and he hopes to be back in the fold for the start of the postseason, but he is still up in the air.
Player to Watch: With no clear timetable for the return of the indomitable Pronger, the Flyers are going to need their captain, C Mike Richards, to have a big series against the Sabres. Richards came up aces in the 2010 NHL playoffs, notching seven goals and 16 assists in 24 games, and he put up quality numbers again this season. Richards tallied 23 goals and 43 assists in the regular season and played a pivotal role in the third best offense (3.1 goals per game) in the NHL.
Goalie Outlook: It wouldn’t be normal for the Flyers to go into the postseason with solid goaltending, and unfortunately for Philly fans that is again the case this NHL playoffs. Sergei Bobrovsky will be the team’s first option, and has compiled an impressive 28-13-8 record during the regular season to go along with a 2.54 GAA and a .916 save percentage. If Bobrovsky can’t get the job done, the Flyers will look to backup Brian Boucher (17-10-4 record, 2.45 GAA, .914 save percentage).
Key to Victory: For Philadelphia, the key to a successful playoff run is going to be shoring up its porous goaltending. Neither Boucher or Bobrovsky look particularly impressive and without Pronger, the Flyers haven’t provided either goalie with much help at the back end.
2010-11 Regular Season Meetings
April 8th – Buffalo 4 – Philadelphia 3
March 5th – Philadelphia 3 – Buffalo 5
January 11th – Buffalo 2 – Philadelphia 5
October 26th – Philadelphia 6 – Buffalo 3
Season Series Notes: Philadelphia and Buffalo split the season series 2-2 with Buffalo winning the last two affairs. All four games between the two teams have been high scoring and each game has gone ‘over’ the betting ‘total’.
The Final Word: The loss of Pronger has been a huge one for Philadelphia and if he can’t make it back for the series, the Flyers are going to be in serious trouble. Rarely does one player have such an overwhelming effect on a team, but Pronger’s skills and leadership have been sorely missed. If Pronger makes it back, the Flyers should win this series. However, if he misses Game 1 and 2 and perhaps Buffalo ends up swiping home ice advantage back, the men from the City of Brotherly Love could be in a heck of a lot of trouble.
Stanley Cup Free Picks: Buffalo in 6
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