April 9, 2007
By Glenn Odebralski
The second season has finally come for the Buffalo Sabres. After ending the regular season as the league's top team, the Sabres begin the playoffs and their quest for Lord Stanley's Cup on Thursday against the New York Islanders (MSG, WGR 550-AM, 8 p.m.).
The Sabres players and coaching staff are expecting a dogfight between the two teams in the series, as both squads have a lot of firepower. "By no means do we think it's going to be an easy series against the Islanders," said co-captain Daniel Briere, who led the Sabres in points during the regular season with 95 (32+63). "They're a very talented team, a lot of guys that can put the puck in the net if you look at their roster. They have many players that have scored 30 and 20 goals on their roster so we have to be very careful."
"They had a great second half and worked their way into the playoffs," said center Tim Connolly, who returned to the lineup on Saturday and had a goal in his first game back after missing 80 games with post-concussion symptoms. "They have a good team."
The Islanders, out of the playoff picture about a week ago, won four straight games, including a shootout victory over New Jersey on Sunday, to storm back and overtake the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens for the last available spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs on the very last day of the regular season.
The Sabres expect New York to try and capitalize on that momentum.
"This first series is going to be extremely tough because you look at how hard they battled to get in," said head coach Lindy Ruff. "And you know that they worked for what they gotten. Along the way they beat some good teams, so we have to be ready."
"They haven't had any help from any other teams," said winger Jason Pominville, who finished with 68 points (34+34). "They've certainly earned the right to be able to play in the playoffs."
For Buffalo, finishing as the top team in the league during the regular season doesn't guarantee success. Last year's President Trophy winners, the Detroit Red Wings, were ousted in their first round match up with the Edmonton Oilers in six games, showing that anything can happen in a best-of-seven series.
"It certainly is something that we'll have in mind," said Pominville. "We're the top seed.
"Teams are going to be ready for us and we just have to make sure that we're going to be ready for them."
The Islanders are led by Jason Blake, former Sabre Miroslav Satan, and Mike Sillinger, and have a total of six players with at least 20 goals. Blakes' 69 points (40+29) leads the team in scoring while, Satan (27+32), and Sillinger (26+33) tied for second with 68 points.
They have also received a boost from two players that didn't start the season with the team. All-star center Ryan Smyth has five goals and ten assists in 18 games since being acquired in a trade from Edmonton. Goaltender Wade Dubielewicz started the season in the AHL, but won four of his five starts since filling in for injured starter, Rick DiPietro.
"You're dealing with players that will play out of character," said Ruff. "You're dealing with players that will raise their level of play. And there are always surprises."
Knowing that the Sabres have been gearing all season towards the playoffs, the coaches and players will be prepared, especially when the scenario is win or go home.
"This is what it's all about," said Pominville. "It's something we've been waiting for all season."
"This is where it matters the most," said Briere. "Every game is very important. Every shift is very important. In a season sometimes you can have a bad game here or there, or have a bad shift and it won't cost you too much but this time of the year you can't take anything for granted."