Buffalo Sabres/Philadelphia Flyers Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Series Preview
The post-season rivalry started in 1975 in the Stanley Cup Finals. It kept up in 1978, then fell silent until 1995. The hate came back in 1997 and 1998, and got hotter still in 2000 and 2001. Most recently, the two clubs battled during their famous 2006 quarterfinal series. Now here it is again – the Buffalo Sabres will take on the Philadelphia Flyers, this time in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs quarterfinal round.
After the jump is Black & Blue & Gold’s take on the opening-round match-up.
7th Seed Buffalo Sabres vs 2nd Seed Philadelphia Flyers
Regular Season Series
The Flyers won the regular season series with a record of 2-1-1. Each team won once at home and on the road.
10/26/10 Game 1: Flyers win at home 6-3 with Claude Giroux tallying the winning goal and Sergei Bobrovsky outdueling Ryan Miller.
01/11/11 Game 2: Flyers win on the road 5-2 with Ville Leino getting the game-winner and Bobrovsky again outplaying Miller.
03/05/11 Game 3: Sabres win on the road 5-2 with Jason Pominville scoring the winner and Miller finally besting Bobrovsky.
04/08/11 Game 4: Sabres clinch their playoff berth with a 4-3 OT win on Nathan Gerbe’s tying goal and Thomas Vanek’s game-winner. Jhonas Enroth starts but is replaced by Ryan Miller after being hung out to dry.
What the Sabres have in winger depth, the Flyers have greater strength at center. With special teams being so key in the playoffs, the Sabres and Flyers forwards will be locked in a chess match throughout the series until one team falters and is eliminated. It’s tough to say which team has the advantage here with strengths in one department masking weaknesses in another. On paper, the Flyers are scarier. But the feeling surrounding the Sabres right now is that heart is going to negate talent. That’s too unmeasurable to make a prediction with. Edge: PHI
The Sabres defensive corps is led by sophomore Tyler Myers, veteran Steve Montador, AHL graduates Chris Butler, Andrej Sekera, and Mike Weber, and is rounded out by recent call-up Marc-Andre Gragnani. The Flyers’ blueliners, marshalled by Chris Pronger, consist of Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle, and Nick Boynton. What the Sabres have in youth and scoring, the Flyers have in experience and grit. While Tyler Myers may be the best defensemen on the ice, he and his mates aren’t really a match for Philly’s depth. If Pronger comes back from injury after game one (he is confirmed out for the series opener), the Sabres have problems. If he doesn’t, the Sabres have to take advantage.Edge: PHI
The Sabres have a clear advantage in net with battle-hardened Ryan Miller starting and hot back-up Jhonas Enroth ready to step in if needed. The Flyers have playoffs-untested Sergei Bobrovsky starting and returning veteran Michael Leighton warming the bench. Not only do the Sabres have the advantage here, but this may be one of the few clear advantages the team has going in. Edge: BUF
The Sabres enter the playoffs with a power play clicking at 19.4% (9th overall) and a shorthanded unit killing off opponents’ chances at an OK 83% (13th). The Flyers bring with them a 16.6% effective power play (16th) and accompany that with a penalty kill that clicks at 82.8% (15). The Sabres hold the slight advantage here on paper, although the playoffs could swing things in favor of the Flyers. Only time will tell. Edge: Tie
Whereas Peter Laviolette, hated around Buffalo for his role in the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup triumph, seemed to have lost the ears of his charges late in the season, Lindy Ruff appeared to have broken through to his own better than ever. It was a total role reversal for these two teams in the regular season, with the Flyers charging up the standings at first then coasting in while the Sabres had to fight tooth and nail to recover from a horrible start to make it in. With his players buying in to the system hardcore and firing on all cylinders, Ruff right now is the more effective bench boss. Edge: BUF
Phil: It’s a matter of hot vs cold and tested vs green. If the Sabres’ special teams and scoring can keep up, they’ve got the advantage over the superior yet stifled Flyers. Miller is their x-factor and while the enemy has Leighton waiting in the wings, Laviolette’s insistence to go with Bobrovsky might be the Flyers’ undoing. Another classic series to add to this storied history. BUF in 6
Alex: The Flyers have been floundering as of late, and their supposed advantages, scoring depth and team defense, are a lot thinner than people think. With hot goaltending and an even hotter corps of fowards, Buffalo is looking to come out strong and make a statement early. BUF in 7
Tom: Prime upset matchup for Buffalo, but they need to be wary. Philly’s goaltending can magically turn on in the playoffs, and that could really even things out. Pronger’s status could be the determining factor. BUF in 6
Jay: Two teams very evenly matched. If Pronger is unable to go all 7 games, Buffalo comes in with two hot goaltenders, and strong offensive play from their stars. In the end they will outlast the Flyers. BUF in 7