Voorhees, NJ – Although the saying goes that championships aren't won on paper, looking at the final regular season statistics it is easy to see why the Buffalo Sabres' have been successful.
"There's nobody in the NHL who has the scoring depth that Buffalo does," said Ken Hitchcock, referring to the 11 players who posted double-digits in goals this season, including six 20-goal scorers. "The closest team is probably Carolina. But nobody from 1-12 (forwards) has the numbers Buffalo has."
The Flyers won just one of the four games in the season series, but their win came in the two teams' most recent game on April 7 at HSBC Arena, a 4-2 victory for Philadelphia. Buffalo will host the first two games on Saturday and Monday.
There were many positives for the Flyers in that game that showed the team it can win against the slippery yet talented forwards that line the Sabres' roster.
"We can't have three guys deep, because that's how this team thrives on quick passes from their zone. They have really quick forwards and they could really create some problems that way," said Petr Nedved. "I think we did a great job of that the last time we played them in Buffalo. They were a little disorganized and we have to play the same way."
"Having success the last time in Buffalo, it brought us some renewed confidence against them," said Hitchcock.
While the Sabres forwards use their quickness to their advantage, they are not as big and physical as the Flyers' defense corps. Denis Gauthier, known as a physical player who can deliver the thunderous check when given the opportunity, thinks the Flyers can use their size to their benefit.
"That's the advantage we have on them as far as battles in front of the net and in the corners around the boards," said Gauthier. "That's where we need to take advantage of them and try to be physical early on. It's going to be a long series so we need to make sure we set the tone early in the first few games and set ourselves up for the latter part of the series."
Gauthier still thinks that there will be plenty of opportunities to lay the big hit.
"Every time you chase a hit and get out of position, they have the capabilities to make you pay. They have too much skill up front, they can put the puck in the net, and so you've got to wait for them. But in a seven-game series, it will come eventually," he said.
One pattern that emerged over the final stretch of the season for the Flyers is the importance of scoring the first goal. In the final 10 games, the only time that the team that scored first did not win was the final game of the season against the Islanders, when New York scored first but Philadelphia pulled out a 4-1 victory.
"We've seen how important that is the last couple of weeks. When you get the first one or two goals the other team has to change a little bit the way they play," said Nedved. "Whoever is down a couple goals, they have to open up and make some risky plays.
"We saw that against the Rangers (on April 15, a 4-1 win). We got a couple goals and they were forcing themselves into things that weren't there. Then we saw that against New Jersey (on April 16, a 5-1 loss) when they got a couple goals up and we were the team that had to open up. It doesn't mean whoever is scoring the first goal is going to win the game, but it is very important."
Starting on the road will be a new experience for Hitchcock, who stressed throughout the final month of the regular season how important it is to start at home. In fact, Hitchcock told the media on Thursday after practice that this would be the first time in more than 20 years of coaching that he will begin a playoff away from home.
Looking at it now, however there could be some advantages for the road team, he said.
"The pressure on the home team to maintain home-ice advantage is immense. We've all been through it. You don't want to work all year to have home-ice advantage and then give it up in the first two games," said Hitchcock.
"There is less pressure on the road team going in, but also you don't want to dig yourself too big a hole and have to come back to your building and win everything at home, plus go back and win at the other team's building."
Hitchcock clearly enjoys this time of the year, no matter where or when the team is playing.
"This is the absolute best time. This is the most fun. You are focused on one opponent only. You're pouring over DVDs, you're pouring over game plans. The preparation side of things, you have to do it all in two days," he said.
"The players have fun with this. It's down to 16 teams now; there are 14 teams that have been eliminated. It's just the best time."
Peter Forsberg, who did not play in the last meeting between the Flyers and Sabres, senses a positive feeling in the locker room.
"We've been a little up and down lately, but the games where we come out with a great attitude and can feel it in the dressing room, we've played well," he said. "Every time we played a big team like Ottawa and Carolina and the big teams in the league, we've come out well. [Buffalo] is a tough opponent but I'm confident in our team. We feel good about ourselves and we beat them up there once. Now we have to make sure we do it a couple more times."