#6 Boston Bruins
(39-30-13, 91 pts)
#3 Buffalo Sabres
(45-27-10, 100 pts)
How They Got Here: Whereas most teams normally excel on their home ice, what made the difference this year for the B’s was their road record. They won 21 games on the enemy’s ice, tying them with New Jersey for the third most wins away from home in the conference. However, an 18-17-6 home record was a real detriment.
Player To Watch: D Zdeno Chara could make a real difference on both sides of the ice for the Bruins. Not only is he a real enforcer are 6’9″, but he is also a great distributer from the point. Chara had 37 assists this year to lead Boston, marking his third straight season with 30+ assists since coming to Beantown.
Goalie Outlook: No matter whether G Tim Thomas or G Tuukka Rask is going to be the man in net for the Bruins, they know that they have a sturdy man in goal. Rask had a 1.97 GAA and went 22-17 this year. Even though Thomas only went 17-26-5, his 2.56 GAA shows that he is still a viable option.
Key To Victory: Defense and goaltending certainly hasn’t been the issue for the Bruins this year, but scoring has been. Converting on 16.6 percent of its power plays isn’t going to cut it, so Boston needs to figure out how to generate just a tad bit more offense than its league worst 2.4 goals per game average to survive.
How They Got Here: One look at Buffalo’s defense, and it’s easy to see how it made it into the playoffs as the #3 seed. The team is only allowing 2.5 goals per game and is killing off a shade under 87 percent of its penalties. The Sabres just missed out on the #2 seed, but will probably be happy with this draw against Boston.
Player To Watch: No one shoots the puck on this Buffalo team like RW Jason Pominville. He took a whopping 252 shots on goal this year and converted on 24 of them for the third best goal scoring tally on the team. It was his fourth straight 20+ goal season and his fourth straight year of putting up at least 60 points.
Goalie Outlook: USA hockey fans are very familiar with G Ryan Miller between the pipes. Not only did Miller carry the stars and stripes to the silver medal in the ’10 Olympics in Vancouver, but he also put the Sabres on his back by going 41-26 with a 2.22 GAA. He also pitched five shutouts on the campaign.
Key To Victory: Quite simply, if it’s Miller Time in Buffalo, the Sabres won’t be beaten. However, if Miller is off of his game even the slightest bit, it’s going to be up to an average offense that put together 2.8 goals per game this year to carry the load, something that has been uncomfortable for the Sabres all season long.
The Final Word: The Sabres need to be very careful in this matchup. Miller is good enough to pitch four shutouts if he needs to, but as we said before, a few slight slips here and there, and this series could become a real war. Boston won the season series four games to two over the Sabres, and the recipe seems ripe for an upset.
Bruins in 6