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Sabres return home facing elimination vs. Bruins

by John McGourty

(Boston leads best-of-seven series, 3-1)
Big story:
The Boston Bruins, the 2009 Northeast Division champs, have the Buffalo Sabres, the 2010 Northeast Division champs, on the brink of elimination. Down 3-1, the Sabres must sweep the final three games of the series to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Can they do it? This series has not been lopsided, with two 2-1 games, a 5-3 game that included a last-minute empty-netter and a double-overtime game. The teams played tight games all season and these tight-checking, low-scoring games have been more of the same, except better because they're playoff games.
Team scope:

The Bruins have won the third period in the last three games, all victories. They have outscored the Sabres, who had a 30-0-0 regular-season record when leading after two periods, by a 7-0 margin after the second period in this series. Rookie goalie Tuukka Rask, overlooked in the Vezina Trophy nominations despite a League-leading 1.97 goals-against average and .931 save percentage, has slightly outplayed worthy nominee Ryan Miller, the runner-up in those categories.

At least a half-dozen Bruins are playing their best hockey of the season, Dennis Wideman, Matt Hunwick, Milan Lucic, Vladimir Sobotka, Michael Ryder, Dan Paille, and Blake Wheeler, a testimonial to coach Claude Julien's coaching methods and staff. Mark Recchi, a star in this series, made an impassioned argument Wednesday that Patrice Bergeron should have been a Selke Trophy nominee. "He plays against the No. 1 center every shift of the year, home and away. No one else does that," Recchi said.

Sabres: Comcast Sports' Joe Haggerty notes the Bruins have held the lead for only 20 minutes in this series. The Sabres have scored the first goal in all four games. The Sabres need to score the first goal and then strike again and again while they have the Bruins on the run early. The Sabres were the NHL's 10th-best power-play team during the regular season but they are 0-for-14 in the series. The Sabres were a better team at full strength, penalty killing and on the power play during the regular season.

Tim Connolly had an assist for his first series point Wednesday but the Sabres need more production and less perimeter play from their top forward. Injuries are never an acceptable excuse in the NHL, but the Sabres obviously miss Thomas Vanek and Jochen Hecht.
"If they can win three, we can win three," said Miller, who made 36 saves in 87 minutes, 41 seconds of a double overtime game Wednesday. "It starts with just winning one, get ourselves back on track."
Who's hot: Boston's Bergeron had a goal and an assist Wednesday. Rask is 3-0 in his last three starts and he is second among playoff goalies with a 1.80 GAA and third with a .939 save percentage. Patrice Bergeron leads the series with two goals and four points. Four Bruins have three points, Recchi, Ryder, Zdeno Chara and Hunwick.
Injury report: Vanek has an ankle sprain and may play Friday, but don't count on it. Hecht is out after finger surgery. … Boston center Marc Savard is traveling with the team as he works his way back from a serious concussion. Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg had arm-tendon surgery and defenseman Mark Stuart had finger surgery.

Stat pack: Say what you want about Miroslav Satan, hero of Game 4 with a goal in double overtime, but he's plus-20 for his career and has scored 363 regular-season goals. He has 17 Stanley Cup Playoff goals and 46 points in 75 playoffs and is even on the plus-minus scale.
Puck drop:
The Sabres added toughness with Cody McCormick and he did a good job, getting an assist, drawing a penalty and throwing plenty of checks until Chara crushed him, really crushed him, in the third period. McCormick continued to play a good game, but he wasn't the bully thereafter that he had been.

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