As the final seconds of Sunday’s game against the New Jersey Devils ticked away, the Buffalo Sabres knew once and for all that the Boston Bruins would be coming to town for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As far as possible match-ups go, it’s not going to be easy for either team if they both play the way they’ve been playing lately, but the general consensus seems to be that the Sabres would rather face Boston than Philadelphia (seventh seed), and the Bruins would rather play Buffalo than New Jersey (two seed).
This will be the eighth time the two teams meet in the playoffs. Boston has won five of the previous seven series — 1992 (4-3), 1989 (4-1), 1988 (4-2), 1983 (4-3), and 1982 (3-1). Buffalo defeated the Bruins in 1999 (4-2) and 1993 (4-0). The good news is that losing five out of seven isn’t quite as awful as it sounds when two of those series went to seven games, and one went to six.
Then again, that’s pretty much ancient history, but Buffalo struggled against the Bruins throughout the regular season, probably more than they should have. In the season series, the Sabres have a 2-2-2 record and were outscored 15-11, but four of the games were decided by one goal and one in a shootout. Of course, a record doesn’t always give the most accurate picture; The Boston Globe‘s Fluto Shinzawa has been recapping the games in more detail, if you’re curious.
Some more numbers for you:
- The Sabres scored more goals (235 to Boston’s 206), but Boston allowed fewer (207-200).
- Both teams have top penalty-kill units — Buffalo is second place in the league (86.6%), while Boston is third (86.4%).
- Bruins goalie Tukka Rask leads the league in goals against (1.97) and save percentage (.931), while Ryan Miller nips at his heels from second place in both categories (2.22 and .929%, respectively).
The thing is, all those numbers mean something, but, at the same time, they don’t. The Bruins seventh-place record shows a team who has struggled with injured players all season — including, most recently, the loss of Marc Savard — and has been through a bit of a scoring drought, and it doesn’t show a fairly strong final push.
But the Sabres third-place standing doesn’t exactly show the whole picture either — a team that has been extremely fortunate to have an Olympic-caliber goaltender who has, in certain instances, kept Buffalo in the game, and a team that struggled with a mid-season slump.
Not to pull out a cliche, but the playoffs are a whole different season. All that matters is the game you’re playing. And these two teams know that.
The good news for Buffalo (and, by association, the bad news for Boston): The Sabres are likely to get some of their injured players back. Head coach Lindy Ruff told The Buffalo News‘s Mike Harrington that Tim Connolly is a distinct possibility for Game One, and Jochen Hecht or Drew Stafford could be back, too. The Bruins, on the other hand, will probably not see Savard back on the bench.
The bottom line: the Buffalo Sabres are looking to impress in their first post-season in two years, and looking for the city’s first Stanley Cup. The Boston Bruins are looking to make it past the first two rounds, something they were unable to do last year and the year before. Both goaltenders are ready to stand on their heads to make the saves. Both teams are scrappy. And both teams, by their nature, will not give up or go easily.
And, finally, the prediction: Buffalo in six or seven, though I won’t be completely floored if it were to go the other way.
The series begins Thursday night at 7pm at HSBC Arena. The full schedule can be found here.