I'm going to post a series of playoff previews here - mostly focusing on the East (since I'll be writing a column as such at SportsBlurb and SportingNews) but trying to get at least some picks down for the West so we can laugh at them in a week. Starting off with Sabres / Isles....
|Series A - #1 Buffalo vs. #8 NY Islanders|
|Thu., April 12||8:00 p.m.||at Buffalo||TSN|
|Sat., April 14||7:30 p.m.||at Buffalo||VERSUS, TSN|
|Mon., April 16||7:30 p.m.||at NY Islanders||VERSUS, TSN|
|Wed., April 18||7:30 p.m.||at NY Islanders||VERSUS, TSN|
|*Fri., April 20||7:00 p.m.||at Buffalo||VERSUS, TSN|
|*Sun., April 22||7:00 p.m.||at NY Islanders||VERSUS, TSN|
|*Tue., April 24||TBD||at Buffalo||TSN|
BUFFALO SABRES (1) vs. NEW YORK ISLANDERS (8)
This intrastate matchup (albeit over 300 miles apart) appears to be a classic David vs. Goliath: the first team to clinch a playoff birth against the team getting in on the last afternoon. Do the Islanders have any shot at all in this fight? Intrigue can be found in a few former Sabres' returning to a site of past glory...
Why Buffalo should be afraid: Every team is gunning for Buffalo and will have nothing to lose. Buffalo is expected to win, and the expectations are that the first few rounds should be easy. Imagine a game one loss in Buffalo on Thursday night - there will be panic in the media and the stands. Will that affect coach Lindy Ruff and the team? Furthermore, for all their success Buffalo has a tendency to often come out flat in period one, which has forced them into countless comeback situations this year. The fact that they succeeded in coming back for most of them may not have much bearing during the short and intense postseason. The Sabres need to play hard and smart right out of the gate as when they get overly fancy with the puck, they tend to play a soft game. Their dazzling play comes only as a result of hard forechecking and solid positional play. If they try to do it the other way around, the Islanders could threaten them.
Random useless but fun playoff facts: The Sabres and Islanders have met three times in the playoffs with the Islanders taking each series, but they have not met since the spring of 1980 when the two teams met in the semifinals. While the Wales Conference champion Sabres steamrolled past Vancouver and Chicago, they had to wait over a week to face the Islanders who used that momentum to win the first three games of the series. Buffalo came back to win the next two but the Islanders sealed their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals with a 5-2 win on home ice in game six.
My pick: In terms of talent and skill, there's a huge edge to Buffalo, as well as playoff experience. However I don't put too much stock in the experience card - Buffalo seemed to do alright last year as the young upstarts. This would be the ultimate Cinderella-story: Buffalo's ex-coach Nolan comes into town with the former leading scorer (Miroslav Satan) and pulls off the upset of the year. I think they can exploit the Sabres' inconsistencies enough to take one game but the road probably ends there, as Buffalo cruises in 5 games.