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Division rivals Boston and Buffalo begin playoffs

by John McGourty

BRUINS (39-30-13) at SABRES (45-27-10)

Last 10 -- Boston 6-3-1; Buffalo 5-5-0

Season series -- The Bruins won four of the six meetings and outscored the Sabres 15-11 in the season series -- although two victories came against Buffalo backup goalies Jonas Enroth and Patrik Lalime. Rookie defenseman Tyler Myers (2-3-5) led the Sabres in scoring against the Bruins, while reigning Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara (1-6-7) led the Bruins against Buffalo. Captain Chara was plus-9.

The Bruins won, 4-2, in Boston on Nov. 7 and 2-1 in overtime on Nov. 20 in Buffalo. The Sabres won, 2-1, on Jan. 29 in Buffalo. The Bruins won, 3-2, in a shootout on Feb. 9 in Buffalo. The Sabres won, 3-2, on March 29 in Boston. Boston had the upper hand, 3-1, at home on April 8. The winning team scored three or fewer goals in five of the six games.

Big story -- The Sabres are East's No. 3 seed as the Northeast Division champions in their first playoff appearance since 2007. They host the 2009 Northeast champions, who slipped to third in the division and sixth in the Eastern Conference. The series matches the top two goalies in goals-against average and save percentage. Boston rookie Tuukka Rask went 22-12-5 with a league-leading 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage. Buffalo's Ryan Miller went 41-18-8 with a 2.22 GAA and .929 save percentage. Both are backed by established veterans, reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas in Boston and Patrick Lalime in Buffalo. But Miller (34) and Lalime (41) have played a combined 75 playoff games while Thomas (18) and Rask (0) have played 18.

Both teams feature a hard forecheck and tight neutral-zone defense. Buffalo was tied for the ninth-best offense while Boston was the lowest-scoring team in the NHL. Buffalo had the second-best penalty kill and Boston was third. The Bruins were the East's second-best road team while the Sabres tied for third-best at home. Boston coach Claude Julien's teams have never faced Buffalo in the playoffs while Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff is 4-2 against Boston. His 1999 team beat Boston in the second round in six games en route to the Stanley Cup Final they lost in six games to Dallas.

Team Scope:

Bruins -- Rask was 4-1-0 against Buffalo with a 1.43 goals-against average and a .954 save percentage. Centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci led the Bruins with 52 points. Chara was third with 44, veteran Mark Recchi (the NHL's leading active scorer) was fourth with 43 and led with eight power-play goals. Marco Sturm had 22 goals to top the Bruins. Chara was plus-19 and Sturm was plus-14. Shawn Thornton led with 141 penalty minutes. Bergeron was fifth in the NHL winning 58 percent of his faceoffs and led Boston with four game-winners. Chara was 12th in the NHL with an average of 25:22 minutes per game. Steve Begin led with 184 hits and Dennis Wideman topped the Bruins with 110 blocked shots.

"I think we match up well," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said. "I don't know what the prognosticators will have, as far as predicting where the series is going to land, but I know it'll be a good one, and we look forward to starting it."

Sabres -- Miller was 2-0-2 against the Bruins with a 1.71 GAA and a .947 save percentage. Center Derek Roy led the Sabres with 69 points. Tim Connolly was second with 65 points and led with 48 assists. Right wing Jason Pominville was third with 62 points. Thomas Vanek led with 28 goals and was fourth with 53 points. Roy and Vanek had a team-high eight power-play goals and six game-winners each. Connolly had five game-winners. Jochen Hecht was tops at plus-14 while Myers and defenseman Henrik Tallinder were plus-13. Captain Craig Rivet led the Sabres with 100 penalty minutes. Paul Gaustad was sixth in the NHL winning 57.4 percent of his faceoffs. Myers was tops on the Sabres and 23rd in the NHL with an average of 23:44 minutes per game. Patrick Kaleta led with 148 hits and Myers led with 137 blocked shots.

"It's great to be back in," Ruff said Monday. "You've got to be excited to be back in again because a couple years of being absent really hurt."

Who's hot -- Bruins center David Krejci has 12 points in the past 11 games. Left wing Milan Lucic and Chara each had four points in four games. Right wing Michael Ryder had two goals in the final game. Defenseman Dennis Wideman had five points in five games. Rask is 4-1-1 with a 1.20 GAA and .957 save percentage in his last seven games. ... Vanek had four goals on Saturday in his return after missing six games with a lower-body injury, then added another on Sunday. Roy had four points in two games. Miller was 2-0-0 with a 2.00 GAA and .935 save percentage in his last two games.

Injury report -- Bruins center Marc Savard is out for the season with a head injury. Defenseman Mark Stuart will miss this series after finger surgery. Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg is out indefinitely after arm surgery. Defenseman Andrew Ference missed the past nine games with groin problems but is probable for Thursday. ... Buffalo right wing Drew Stafford suffered a concussion on his first shift Saturday against Ottawa and is questionable for Thursday. Connolly missed the past nine games with a foot injury and is questionable. Left wing Jochen Hecht missed three games with an upper-body injury and is questionable. Left wing Raffi Torres missed six games in late March with an upper-body injury, returned with a three-assist game and has no points in his last seven games. Right wing Patrick Kaleta returned Sunday after missing seven games with a thumb injury and should be ready.

Stat pack -- Don't expect a lot of goals in this series. Boston was the NHL's second-best defensive team, allowing only 2.33 goals per game, and Buffalo was fourth, allowing only 2.45 per game. Buffalo was 17th on the power play with 17.6 percent efficiency while Boston was 23rd, scoring 16.6 percent. Buffalo killed 86.6 percent of its penalties, second-best in the NHL. Boston killed 86.4 percent, third-best. Boston averaged 31.7 shots per game; Buffalo averaged 31.6, 7th and 8th, respectively. Boston allowed 29.8 shots per game, 14th; Buffalo allowed 31.4, 21st. Boston won 52.6 percent of faceoffs, 2nd-best; Buffalo won 48.6, 23rd. Buffalo's 11.2 minutes of penalties per game was fourth-lowest. Boston's 11.6 was 11th-lowest. The Bruins had the third-fewest third-period goals in the NHL.

Puck drop -- "(The Sabres have) added more speed up front. You see that in their forecheck and neutral-zone play," Chiarelli said. "Obviously, their goalie is a terrific goalie. He's very hard to beat. We've played them well. There's a defensive element to their game that's inherent in Lindy's system and the way (GM) Darcy (Regier) builds his team. It's not the same type of components, but it's an emphasis on our team also. From a matchup perspective, you're going to see some tight defense."

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