Playoff matchups: Bruins vs. Sabres
|04.11.10 at 9:59 pm ET|
Coming off a 4-3 overtime victory against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals on Sunday, the Bruins can at the very least take momentum into their first-round matchup beginning Thursday at HSBC Arena against the third-seeded Sabres. Claude Julien’s squad took the season series from Buffalo, 4-2, but shouldn’t get too ahead of themselves considering they are sending a lackluster offense up against perhaps the league’s best goalie in the playoff-tested Ryan Miller.
The Bruins’ offense wasn’t expected to be what it was a year ago, but between the Phil Kessel trade, the Marc Savard injury and a collection of stars from the ‘08-‘09 team falling back to earth, the team scored just 193 goals and boasted the league’s worst offense and the only squad to fall short of 200 goals. Such a statistic is far from encouraging for a team that’s set to play at least the next four against Miller.
Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Zdeno Chara led the Bruins in points with 52, 52, and 44, respectively, but the team had just one 20-goal scorer in the form of Marco Sturm (21). For the sake of comparison, the Bruins had six players with at least 50 points and six with 20 goals (Kessel led the Bruins with 36) a season ago.
Left wing Thomas Vanek, who scored four goals against the Senators Saturday, is the Sabres’ biggest scoring threat, as the 26-year-old led the team with 26 goals in the regular season. Derek Roy (26), Jason Pomenville (24), and Jochen Hect (21) followed, with Roy leading the Sabres in points with 68.
Much of this depends on Mark Stuart‘s hopeful return from pinky surgery. Stuart could be back for the third game of the series, but even so the Bruins are the better defensive team. Though there has been fluctuation in the pairings, Zdeno Chara (plus-23) with Dennis Wideman imposes a strong enough presence to make the series a struggle for the Sabres offensively. The Bruins captain is unquestionably the elite defenseman in the series, though Sabres rookie Tyler Myers (plus-13) was more than impressive in the regular season and played in all 82 games.
The matchup of the two leaders in both GAA and save percentage is what should make this such an exciting series. One glance at the numbers of Rask (1.97 GAA, .931 save percentage) and Miller ( GAA, save percentage) and it’s no wonder that November 2nd’s 4-2 Bruins victory (which Miller didn’t start) was the highest-scoring affair between the two teams all season. Between Miller’s 34 career playoff games and the fact that he started 29 more games this season than Rask’s 39. Miller may slightly trail Rask statistically, but the NHL playoffs have always been about goaltending and Miller’s 2.40 career playoff GAA is proof enough that springtime puck doesn’t faze him.
How Claude Julien manages the goaltending in the playoffs will be something to watch. At times during which Rask appeared to be the hot hand and seemed to have earned the starting job, Tim Thomas continued to get frequent starts. Rask has to be the man for the Bruins, as goaltending tandems have historically failed teams in the playoffs.
The Bruins prided themselves on their penalty kill during the regular season, finishing third in penalty kill efficiency with 88.25 penalty kill percentage. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for anyone embracing the potential offensive stalemate this series could be, the Sabres led the NHL with an 89.08 penalty kill percentage.
The Sabres are also the superior team on the power play, as their 17.62 power play percentage bests the Bruins’ 16.41. The Bruins finished the season 24th in the category. Mark Recchi had eight power play goals for the Bruins in the regular season, while Michael Ryder, Krejci, and Savard each notched six. Roy and Vanek led the Sabres with 10 apiece.