-- The Buffalo Sabres
were a loose and confident group following their practice here at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday in preparation for the seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers
And while playing in a Game 7 will be a new experience for several of the players, it should also be noted that these relatively young Sabres have also been rewriting their record books or are closing in on a few during this opening-round series.
For starters, Thomas Vanek
's four power-play goals leave him one short of Pat LaFontaine
's franchise-record of 5 set in 1992. Ryan Miller
's two shutouts have equaled the team mark by Bob Sauve and Dominik Hasek
for most goose eggs in not only one series, but a playoff year.
Then there's rookie Marc-Andre Gragnani
, who has already established the Sabres' rookie record for assists (6) by a defenseman in one series. In fact, his total is one short of the team record for a series, held by Gilbert Perrault, Dale Hawerchuk
and Miroslav Satan
. His 7 points are the most by a rookie defenseman in a playoff series since Hartford's Brad Shaw
produced 7 against Boston in 1990.
"The records are nice … it's a part of my game that I bring to the team I play for," Gragnani told NHL.com. "I haven't thought about it or really care about records, though, so long as we win, I'll be happy. It's not about individual stats this time of the year."
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff
has been extremely pleased with the play of Gragnani along the blue line. The 24-year-old Montreal native has 1 goal, 7 points and a plus-1 rating in the playoffs.
"I think he has stepped in and used his tools very efficiently on the power play for us and has moved the puck well," Ruff said. "We've tried to make him feel real comfortable in the role we've had him in and really have not tried to put too much on him.
"It hasn't been an easy situation. Not many young guys can step in and do it the way he's done it, but he gets it as a young guy. He had no expectations but has done an excellent job for us."
Gragnani, who was selected in the third round by the Sabres in 2005, is excited about the opportunity to play in a Game 7.
"The first shift is always the most nerve-wracking because you want to get into the game and get a sweat going," he said. "But after that, it's game on. You don't think about what's at stake or anything like that; you play the game you love and try to do your best out there."
Ruff said he spoke to the players on Monday about what is at stake and he believes the team is certainly up for the challenge.
"I told them not to take too much emotion out of the pre-game warm-up and just stay relaxed," Ruff said. "They have to realize there's a chance to do something very special. We need a smile on someone's face like Tyler Ennis
had after (Game 5); that's all we need. I think you try to get your players to embrace the fact these Game 7s don't come around very often. It's been one heck of a series and we need some guys to step through and be the hero for us."
Speaking of Ennis, the 21-year-old rookie is two goals shy of equaling the team record set by Pierre Turgeon
(1988) and Jason Pominville
(2006) for most goals by a first-year player.
"It's my first Game 7 in the NHL and I can't wait for it to get started," Ennis told NHL.com. "It's good to have butterflies before games. I know I'm excited right now and maybe closer to the game, I'll be a little more nervous. But I think I'm just going to have fun with it."
Ennis also knows being able to neutralize Philadelphia's quick transition will be key.
"We're a pretty offensive team, but we know they generate a lot of their offense through the neutral zone," Ennis said. "They like to create off the rush, they have a lot of skilled guys and it'll be important for us to control them and try to get numbers back there. Another thing we're aware of is the fact we've had a tough time hanging onto leads in this series. We have to be really disciplined."
, who plays on a line with Ennis, has registered 26 shots on goal and is just one short of the team record for shots in a first-round matchup, shared by Dave Andreychuk
and LaFontaine in 1992. Stafford finished fourth on the team with 179 shots in 62 regular-season games in 2010-11.
"You want to treat this like any game we've had," Stafford said. "Some guys haven't had the experience of a Game 7 but, at the same time, this has been a hard-fought series and every game has been close so it'll come down to their best versus our best.
"When you're playing the same team over and over, you see the same systems, same players, and you get sick of each other really quick. I'm pretty sure that both teams wouldn't have it any other way (to end the series with a deciding Game 7)."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale