SABRES (43-29-10) at FLYERS (47-23-12)
TV: TSN, VERSUS, MSG-B (HD), CSN-PH (HD)
Buffalo 8-1-1; Philadelphia 3-4-3
These teams met four times during the regular season and while the Flyers took the first two, the Sabres responded with a pair of victories down the stretch. That includes a 5-3 win on March 5 at the Wells Fargo Center, where this best-of-seven conference quarterfinal round will begin.
The Flyers didn't exactly hit the Stanley Cup Playoffs firing on all cylinders, but the belief among the players is the team can flip the switch into postseason mode and make a run similar to the one that got them to the Stanley Cup Final last spring.
On the other hand, the Sabres enter as one of the hottest teams in the League, winning their last four games to cap a 16-4-4 run to the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference.
Center Rob Niedermayer has the one thing the rest of his teammates want -- a Stanley Cup, courtesy of the 2007 Anaheim Ducks. He's also reached the Stanley Cup Final with the 1996 Florida Panthers and the 2003 Ducks, so he knows what it takes to reach the ultimate goal.
"He doesn't panic in situations," linemate Cody McCormick
told the Buffalo News. "He's been through almost every (situation) in hockey, I bet. He's lived it and is a guy you can go to if you have a question. His experience in the playoffs is something you can really talk to him about."
McCormick said he's certainly been talking to Niedermayer, hoping to glean any words of wisdom to help in what he hopes will be a long playoff run.
"I've probably hit that topic once or twice," McCormick said, referring to the 2007 Cup. "I never asked him too much about it on the personal side (of playing with his brother), but we've talked about how every game gets bigger and bigger when you get into later rounds and it means more each game. He's been there. He's won one and obviously when you win one, you want two."
The big question surrounding the team is the status of All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger
, who is recovering from surgery to repair a broken right hand.
Pronger skated and handled pucks in a 40-minute on-ice session prior to the team's full practice Wednesday, but his passes and few shots had little force behind them. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said Pronger will be a game-time decision Thursday night.
Pronger did not talk to reporters after Wednesday's session, but said Tuesday how difficult it was to not be with the team at this time of the year.
"It's tough," he said. "You'd like to be able to be out there prepping, going through all the drills and preparing properly. But I have my own path, I guess, and we'll use it for what it is."
Sabres forward Thomas Vanek
, who scored the overtime goal when these teams last met April 8, had 6 points in his last two regular-season games. He had 2 goals and 5 assists in four games against Philadelphia this season. … Flyers forward Scott Hartnell
enters the postseason off back-to-back 2-point games, including a 2-goal game in the series finale against the Islanders. In four games against the Sabres this season, he had 3 goals and 3 assists.
Buffalo forward Derek Roy
(quad) could return if the Sabres advance to the second round. Forward Mike Grier, who missed the last seven games with a knee injury, practiced Wednesday but is questionable for Game 1. … Flyers captain Mike Richards skipped Wednesday's practice due to a cold, but said he'll be available for Game 1.
This will be the ninth time the Flyers and Sabres have met in the postseason. Philadelphia holds a 5-3 edge, including a win in the 1975 Stanley Cup Final. However, the Sabres have won their two most recent matchups, in the first round of the 2001 and 2006 playoffs, both times in six games.
This will be Danny Briere
's first playoff series in Buffalo since leaving the Sabres following the 2006-07 season. He spent four seasons in Buffalo, helping them to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals in 2006 and 2007.
"It's been quite some time now, so it's probably not as crazy, but there's still a little something there," Briere told CSNPhilly.com. "It's going to be special, there's no doubt about it. I'll be facing a lot of friends, but for a couple weeks there we'll have the leave that behind us. I'm definitely excited."