With four of six games between the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins decided by just one goal in the 2009-10 season, the consensus around the League is to expect more of the same come playoff time.
Stellar goaltending from both Tuukka Rask and Ryan Miller
– who are ranked second and third in the League for save percentage – do little to shake the notion. Add that to the fact that Buffalo (86.6) and Boston’s (86.4) penalty killing are second only to the St. Louis Blues (86.8) in the NHL, and it seems fairly certain that goals will be hard to come by.
But whether or not the sentiment holds true, as Game 1 approaches one thing is clear as far as the Sabres are concerned: there is little room for error.
“I would probably agree with that,” Craig Rivet said. “They were one of the best defensive teams in the League this year… I know that, playing for Claude Julien before, he stresses that. He stresses good, solid, defensive hockey. But at the same time, we were one of the best in the League too… once we’re in that offensive zone we are going to have to work to get our goals.”
“We’ve got to stick to our system,” Tim Connolly agreed. “It’s based on patience, it’s based on getting pucks deep and playing in their end... They don’t give up a lot of chances and they’ve got great goaltending so it could be a low scoring affair.”
Head Coach Lindy Ruff disagrees.
While he admits the teams are closely matched, he is of the mindset that eventually, something will give.
“I don’t picture it staying as tight as everybody seems [to think] because at some point, somebody will be down and somebody will have to get after it more. Somebody may break through on special teams,” he said. “You look at the numbers and you would have to agree with everybody [right now]. I would like to as a coach get by it, but I don’t think I can. Proof has to be when you go out and play to see whether we can break through.”
He is counting on his young players to make a difference.
There are seven players on the Sabres roster that have yet to play an NHL game in the postseason; namely Tyler Myers
, Pat Kaleta, Tim Kennedy, Chris Butler, Andrej Sekera
, Tyler Ennis
and Nathan Gerbe
It’s likely that at least four of those players (Myers, Kennedy, Sekera and Ennis) could see some time with the man advantage.
“You would hope you just can reach another level, that you can grab another gear. But there are always one or two players that surprise you in the playoffs; players that seem like a third line guy, or a guy that maybe has had a bit of a tough year can break though.”
“If you’ve been in the playoffs before, it doesn’t matter at what level,” argued Rivet. “You know you have to up your game. You know that power plays and penalty killing are keys in the playoffs. It’s a process… you have to play consistent hockey and I think these young players realize that.
“We feel if we can take care of our own end, it will lead to chances in the offensive zone. We feel that we have the skill to do that. It’s basically putting in the work at both ends of the ice.”