Philadelphia Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette is an experienced NHL coach with a Stanley Cup ring from his time in Carolina (2006) and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final with Philadelphia last season. He knows what it takes to get the most out of his players in the NHL’s second season. The same can be said of Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. For thirteen seasons, he has been behind the bench in Buffalo, guiding his team to a Stanley Cup Final (1999), as well as three Eastern Conference Finals (1998, 2006, and 2007). With Ruff’s experience and success year after year, are the Sabres still considered the underdogs in this series as they head into tonight’s third game of the series tied with the Flyers?
The Flyers and their high-powered offence finished the regular season first in the Atlantic Division and earned the second-seed in the Eastern Conference. They finished first in the Conference in goals for with 256, which placed them third overall in the league. When you think of the Buffalo Sabres, the phrase high-powered offence does not immediately come to mind but the Sabres were ninth in the NHL in the goals for category with 240 (fourth overall in the East) and during the regular season, the Sabres had a better power play and penalty kill than the Flyers.
Special teams becomes extremely important as teams tighten up defensively in the playoffs and the Sabres may have the edge here after finishing the regular season with a 19.4% efficiency rating with the extra attacker, ninth overall in the league. Philadelphia finished the year 19th overall, scoring on 16.6% of their power plays. Through the first two games of the series, Buffalo is slightly above their regular season average (2-for-9, 22.2%). Philadelphia on the other hand has struggled; although, the undisciplined play of the Sabres has provided the Flyers with plenty of opportunities (1-for-15, 6.7%). The Sabres have relied heavily on goaltender Ryan Miller on the PK and with their killer instinct around the net, Philadelphia’s top forwards – Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, Jeff Carter, Scott Hartnell, Mike Richards and James Van Riemsdyk will eventually find the back of the net on a regular basis if given enough opportunities.
With the reigning Vezina Trophy winner guarding the Buffalo net, the biggest question mark for the Flyers heading into the playoffs was how goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky would handle the pressure of the NHL playoffs. After a strong rookie season, the young netminder had cooled off as the season wound down. While he was up to the challenge in Game 1, a 1-0 loss, in Game 2 the Sabres chased the rookie from the game after he allowed three goals on seven shots. Veteran Brian Boucher entered the game for Philadelphia, stopping 20 of the 21 shots he faced to earn the 5-4 victory.
The 34-year old Boucher has played in 35 playoff games during his career and has a 2.18 GAA and a .914 save percentage. Laviolette will rely on that experience as it was announced today that Boucher would start in goal for the Flyers instead of Bobrovsky. The Flyers have last year’s successful run to the Final fresh in their minds but after earning a split in Philadelphia, the Sabres may have the advantage in the series with Ruff behind the bench, Miller guarding the net and the home crowd cheering them on.
Andrew Rodger is an independent sports columnist and member of the Canadian Association of Journalists. Along with operating The Voice of Sport, he covers the Ottawa Senators and writes the “Ask the Alumni” series here at The Hockey Writers. He is the resident writer for the NHL Alumni Association and a contributor on CBC News Now.