Buffalo Bound

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boston bruins buffalo sabres

Once more into the breach, dear friends.

Tonight in Buffalo, at the HSBC Arena, the Boston Bruins begin their 2010 Stanley Cup Playoff run against the Buffalo Sabres. Though the expectations are far lower than they were last year and there isn’t the hated Montreal Canadiens to make our blood boil, it still remains the most exciting time to be a hockey fan, in this city or any other.

I recall it was the crazed enthusiasm and mad-dog fury of the Bruins-Canadiens series of the past two years, the team’s return to serious playoff contention, that finally pushed me to take my hockey writing from just doing the odd piece here and there on other websites and focus it here in a little something we now call HGW. Suddenly, after years of pain and misery and failure the B’s seemed relevant again and there was just too much to talk about to be confined elsewhere. Hockey Gone Wild was born.

This season has been a bit more difficult, I must admit, but no less interesting in terms of stories to talk about. From the ongoing injury woes, the struggling play and questions of character, Don Cherry’s rantings, the Matt Cooke incident, the clawing their way into the playoffs and the Draft Lottery, there have been no shortage of stories on our plates this year. All of that now is prologue to what begins this evening. Tonight the slate is wiped clean and everyone starts with a 0-0 record.

With that in mind, some previews and predictions for the Bruins-Sabres and the remaining series:

Boston Bruins vs Buffalo Sabres – The series might start and end with Goaltending. It’s often the story in the NHL Playoffs but in this series it might be the most prime example available. Ryan Miller and Tuukka Rask ended the season as the two highest ranked netminders in the league in terms of GAA and Saves Percentage. Tuukka, a rookie who started almost 30 less games than Miller, had the slight edge in numbers with his 1.97 GAA and .931 Sv% compared to Miller’s 2.22 and .929. We all know, though, from watching the Winter Olympics in Vancouver how good Ryan Miller can be when the stakes are high. His play throughout that tournament was spectacular and, should his game elevate to that level in this series, the Bruins’ woeful offense will be sorely tested. As will the seemingly steady, unflappable resolve of rising star Tuukka Rask.

It’s a great story, really, a great match-up. The two teams are actually very evenly matched when you look at it. Though the Sabres scored a few more goals in the regular season (didn’t everybody?) they gave up almost the same amount. They remain two teams built on defense and goaltending and grinding play. Zdeno Chara, towering defensemen and key player on the Bruins, will be mirrored by his Buffalo counterpart, rookie Tyler Myers. The Sabres might have the edge in scoring with guys like Vanek and Roy and Pominville but the B’s might be the better penalty killing team and we know how important specialty teams are in the post season.

In the end, so much relies on the goaltending. From a Boston perspective, Tuukka Rask need to play well for them to have a chance. They also need elevated play from their key players, Patrice Bergeron, David Krecji and Milan Lucic. They need someone on the wing to step up and be consistently productive. Is it too much to ask for Michael Ryder or Marco Sturm or Blake Wheeler to find their scoring touch again? Maybe so. Any way you slice it, it’s going to be a grinding series and, hopefully, a lot of nasty fun to watch. I’m going to stay with my homeristic hopes and call it for the locals because to think otherwise is too much of a buzz kill. Bruins in 7.

Montreal Canadiens vs Washington Capitals – The Montreal Men’s Skating Choir versus the powerhouse, beast of the east, high scoring, high flying Caps. The Habs by once again falling to that 8th and final playoff spot in the east have not done themselves any favors this season. They merely earned the privilege of being the cannon fodder for the hungriest, most talented team out there right now. The wee little appetizer before the main course. No contest here, folks. Capitals in 4.

Los Angeles Kings vs Vancouver Canucks – Everyone seems to like the Hawks coming out of the West but I think I need to go against that grain a little bit and look at Vancouver. I like this team a lot, I really do. There’s serious depth at forward with the Sedins, Ryan Kesler and a group of excellent wingers to complement them. If defense is a minor weakness, well, there’s Roberto Luongo to offset that. The Kings might be a rising team but this will not be their year having to face such an excellent Canucks team in the first round. Vancouver in 5.

Nashville Predators vs Chicago Blackhawks – The Predators made the playoffs, did they? This, to me, is the West’s verion of Habs/Caps. No contest. I mean, Nashville is a team that scored 225 goals and gave up 225 goals. That’s some glaring mediocrity for you right there, that is. The Hawks, meanwhile, are just too talented and they want this badly, I think. As long as they don’t take the Preds too lightly (like I am right now…) they should steamroll on to the next round. Blackhawks in 4.

Alright, then. Enough talk. Let’s play some damn hockey!

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