Skip to main content

Goalie matchup: Sabres-Flyers

NHL.com @NHL
Goaltending is the most important position in any playoff battle. Without good goaltending, the Stanley Cup is near impossible to win.
 
So NHL.com decided to break down the strengths and weaknesses of the 16 goalies that will compete for this year's Stanley Cup championship in the most in-depth manner possible.

In order to do that, we found some experts, enlisting Ken Baker and Justin Goldman.

Baker, most recognizable as E!’s Chief News Correspondent, is a goalie junkie. Not only did he play the position in college, but he wrote a memorable book about playing the position, They Don't Play Hockey in Heaven, which chronicled his attempt to make the ECHL's Bakersfield Condors after overcoming a brain tumor. He is also the brain behind the Stop Da Puck blog, which details all things goaltending.

Goldman, meanwhile, is one of the preeminent goaltending experts on the Web. His site, www.thegoalieguild.com serves as a haven for those who share a passion for goaltending with a mission to enhance and advance knowledge of the goaltending position through a wide variety of interactive and in-depth scouting services.

For this exercise, we used a draft mechanism that allowed each expert to pick four of his favorite goalies and start the discussion. Baker picked the four goalies he wanted to trumpet in the West, leaving the rebuttal to Goldman. In the East, Goldman made the picks, leaving rebuttal duties to Baker.

Here are the intriguing results, which promise to be a treasure trove of insider info on the men that more than anyone will determine who advances to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

No. 2 Philadelphia vs. No. 7 Buffalo
Justin Goldman chooses Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres: When handicapping Ryan Miller's odds against the Flyers, there are very few succulent statistics on which I can feast.
He only posted a .915 save percentage in 66 games this season and went 2-2 against the Flyers with a 3.60 goals-against average. He also suffered a few curious injuries, including a recent one wrapped in a bit of a riddle.

But Miller knows what it takes to carry an entire team, city and country on his shoulders. His play in the 2010 Winter Olympics proved he's capable of coming up big in the biggest moments imaginable. It's a valuable experience he'll certainly draw upon as he prepares for what is sure to be a grueling and potentially high-scoring series.

Technically speaking, Miller is one of the finest butterfly goaltenders in the world. His footwork is as sharp and precise as a diamond-tipped knife. He understands the intricate points of positioning, including rebound placement, reading odd-man rushes and killing penalties. His gloves are active, lightning-quick and one of his most established strengths.

We both know that goaltending, especially in the playoffs, is 90 percent mental. So when it comes to preparing the mind for a must-win situation, nobody gets "in the zone" better than Miller. His pre-game routine is a benchmark for goalies everywhere, so you can't deny the fact that he's a true mental warrior. To me, he's pure goaltending Zen.

Like a durable Chevy engine, the American-born Miller is also tried, tested and true. He has experienced tough playoff losses and suffered through the excruciating pain of a failed poke check on Sidney Crosby in a gold-medal game. Yet through it all, he has faced the press and the pundits with plenty of poise.

As Buffalo's responsible, reliable and even-keeled leader, Miller won't collapse after a bad goal or an unfortunate bounce.

I also expect Miller to make smarter decisions in key moments. Instead of lunging for a poke check, he'll be more patient. Instead of making a risky pass through the slot, he'll use the boards. Instead of kicking out a rebound on an extended shift, he'll absorb the puck and get a whistle.

Ultimately, a goalie of Miller's pedigree has to dig in the trenches before he can win the war. At age 30, his past has been plenty muddied by big mistakes in monumental games. But his chance to transform those tough losses into big wins is now or never. He won't make the same mistakes twice.
Baker counters: Trying to argue that Sergei Bobrovksy is the better goalie in the Flyers-Sabres matchup would be like arguing I'm better looking than Brad Pitt. In other words, I'm not even gonna go there. 
 
But what I can say with a straight face is this: Bobrovsky's chances of stealing the series from Miller's clutches aren't as bleak as you might think at first glance.
 
Even though Bobrovsky probably would be the first to admit (in a thick Russian accent, of course) that his play dropped off in his Pronger-deprived second half of the regular season, the fact remains that, with a 28-13-8 record and .915 save percentage, the rookie more than got the job done. And if he can dig deep and rediscover some of that brilliance -- and find that certain Hall of Fame d-man whose name rhymes with "wronger" -- from earlier in the season, Bob-sky could prove a frustrating foil for some of Buffalo's top guns.
 
But in order to pull this off, Bobrovsky (at 22 the youngest starting goalie in the playoffs) will have to show off his strengths:
 
• An ability to scramble as effectively as an egg in a $200 frying pan, meaning he finds a way to stop impossible pucks in chaotic situations
• An athleticism that leaves him never out of a play
• His net-clogging positioning far atop the paint on straight-on shots

But he must also pray Buffalo doesn't expose his flaws:

• Pucks that pinch through his five hole, armpits and anywhere else his body should have been
• Repeated trouble finding the rubber in traffic and body screens
• Sloppy post coverage on wraparounds and walk-ins from the corner
• Rebounds that are juicier than a perfectly fried Buffalo Wing

Everyone knows that if Bobrovsky falters early, Brian Boucher and/or the just called-up Michael Leighton will be put in faster than hometown fans can say "Philly-hasn't-had-a-legit-goalie-since-Hextall." (So, like, three seconds.)
 
But if Bobrovsky rises to the occasion and surprises the goaltending intelligentsia and actually beats Buffalo, it might be mostly due to him having one thing Miller doesn't: No injury.

View More