April 15, 2010

Buffalo (3rd) vs. BOSTON (6th)

Buffalo: 45-27-10 (100 points)
Boston: 39-30-13 (91 points)

First thing's first: Will anyone score a powerplay goal in this series? Buffalo and Boston are 17th and 23rd in PP% respectively, while 2nd and 3rd in PK%. They're also tied for first in save percentage. After that stunning display against Carolina this past weekend, I'd almost feel more comfortable shorthanded than up a man.

Penalties themselves are interesting. Buffalo takes fewer overall, but takes more minor penalties than Boston and far fewer majors. The Sabres' relative lack of physicality could be an advantage for the Bruins, if they choose to play with fire. That's always a question mark. They need to attack fast, hard, and get as many shots as possible. Buffalo let up more goals than the Bruins this year because they let up more shots. If we keep pestering him, Ryan Miller will give one up.

Bruins fans or stats freaks out there might be saying, "The Bruins get a lot of shots each game already, and it doesn't help", to which I must reply: yes. This is true. They have the worst shooting percentage in the league. Many of their shots come from the point or out high, especially on the powerplay. They allow themselves to be intimidated by opposing players and doubt themselves, hesitating a second too long. They make one too many passes far too often. To win games in the playoffs, they have to solve this problem.

Players like Blake Wheeler, Milan Lucic, and Michael Ryder need to come up big. Rides and Milan are both at their best in the slot, sniping through the traffic in front. Square Wheels can create offense from the neutral zone, if he can just round out his wheels. The Bruins need him to create more chances, if not to score, than at least to wear down their defense. Krejci, Patrice, Sturm, and Recchi do more than their part driving to the net, crashing, and working it down low. It's these things that make the difference. Without constant pressure low in the zone, we can't possibly expect shooting lanes for our de. Zard, while leading the team in shots, has a 2.9 shooting%, good for 187th among defensemen. Many of his shots don't even make it to the net. If our forwards control the puck deep in the zone, it opens up space at the point.

Goaltending is the highlight of this series. Both Miller and Tuukka will make goals very hard to come by. This could be another advantage for the Bruins- they can't score anyway, so Buffalo might as well not. Low scoring games mean anything can happen. Everyone (read: Versus) will be talking about Tuukka's lack of experience, but Tuukka can handle himself. If we make it past this round, it will be because of him and his leg terror.

A major concern is injuries. Our de is severely crippled, while they have several forwards still listed as day-to-day. Injuries not reported are also interesting. Vanek was out very recently, and could still be hurting. We know Zard and Milan are, but it's hard not to wonder about a player like Mark Recchi. How are his old bones doing? He seemed to be hobbling more than usual in the last few games of the season. At this time of year, nearly everyone is hurt in one way or another, but it could really handicap whichever team is worse off. I believe that injuries are what undid the Bruins against Carolina last year. Maybe this year we'll get lucky.

Prediction: The Bruins can win "if this" or "if that". Yes, that means they can do it, but "ifs" are a red flag when making predictions. My head says Buffalo in 7. My heart says Boston in 7. Bear hat says ACTIVATE.

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