by Todd Anderson
The Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators may have finished 1-2 in scoring with 298 and 286 goals, respectively, during the regular season, but a showcase of tight-checking hockey is expected during the Eastern Conference final.
"I think it will be similar to last year when we played," Senators goaltender Ray Emery says of last year's second-round playoff series won by Buffalo. "There was one high-scoring game, but for the most part, it was 3-2 and 2-1, that sort of thing. That seems to be the way it goes in the playoffs when teams are really bearing down and not wanting to give up too much defensively."
Tied with New Jersey Devils centre Scott Gomez for the NHL scoring lead with 14 points, Senators forward Dany Heatley acknowledges the importance of his line -featuring captain Daniel Alfredsson and centre Jason Spezza - to continue producing goals, but he feels defensive responsibility is an important focus for his team.
"Both teams can score, obviously. For us, we have to keep playing the way we have been defensively," Heatley says. "I think that's the key to our success being responsible in our own end. They've got some guys that if you give them some room, they're going to burn you."
The Sabres and Senators boast depth throughout their forward lines and are expected to roll them all during the series. The difference on offence could come from the defence.
"It's going to be important for us to be quick getting up the ice, and making (the Sabres) extend themselves and get them out of position," Senators defenceman Wade Redden says. "Skating is going to be a big thing this series."
There will be a fine line on choosing when to pinch into the offensive zone and when not to, however. The Sabres, like the Senators, are dangerous when they gain advantage of neutral-zone turnovers.
"We've just got to limit our mistakes and, hopefully, they make some we can feed off of," Emery says. "You can't give them those chances that they're so good at burying. Odd-man rushes, plays behind the net, things like that. We know what to key on. We know they're a dangerous team and we know that you can't afford to give up much against them."
Emery is confident his team is in a better position to win compared to last post-season.
"We'd start pressing and cheat from our system just a bit (last year)," Emery says. "This year, for the most part, we've played full games. We're just sticking to the system with the third guy high and nobody making those little mistakes or gambling a little bit like we did in the past. That all adds up and makes for more consistent hockey."