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Why Sabres will win: Tried and true formula

by John McGourty
The Buffalo Sabres can win the Stanley Cup by playing tight-checking, low-scoring games in which Ryan Miller outplays the other goalie. That's been their formula for several seasons and it's never worked better than this year.

Coach Lindy Ruff has been employing pretty much the same system since he took over the reins in 1997 and that style is an effective one in Stanley Cup Playoff games. Ruff's teams have gone 13-9 against the Philadelphia Flyers in the postseason; 4-2 against Boston; and 4-0 against Montreal. Washington and Pittsburgh won their only series against Ruff and the Sabres have never met New Jersey in the playoffs under Ruff.

The Sabres outscore their opponents 1.09-to-1 in 5-on-5 play, are second-best at killing penalties and just average on the power play. Only six teams take more shots than the Sabres, but opponents put almost as many shots on Miller.

Injuries are the Sabres' biggest concern. Tim Connolly, Thomas Vanek, Patrick Kaleta, Jochen Hecht and captain Craig Rivet all missed games in the final week of the season. Tyler Ennis, recently named AHL Player of the Year, might crack the Top 9 forward group for the playoffs if injuries continue.

The biggest weakness is in the defense corps where Rivet is starting to show the miles of a long, rugged career. Tyler Myers, Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder are solid and eat up lots of minutes. Chris Butler is developing well, but is still a defensive liability. Andrej Sekera seems to have regressed and has been in Ruff's doghouse all season. Free-agent Steve Montador played well but his offense is better than his defense.

And, Buffalo has a secret playoff weapon: Tim Connolly. Some secret, huh? Except most people don't realize that Connolly, who has produced 0.63 points per game in 559 NHL regular-season games, has produced 0.83 points per playoff game. There haven't been too many NHL players who were 33 percent better at the higher level.

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