Overall: Buffalo won the President's Trophy for the league's best record (53W, 22L, 7OTL, 113P), which obviously gave them first in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa finished fourth in the East (48W, 25L, 9OTL, 105P).
Head-to-Head: Ottawa won five of the eight games these two played, losing two more in regulation and the third in overtime. The Sens outscored the Sabres 33-25 in those eight games.
Ottawa: 10GP, 8W, 2L, 33GF, 21GA
Emery: 10GP, 2.04GAA, 0.919SP
- Heatley: 10GP, 5G, 9A, 14P
- Spezza: 10GP, 5G, 7A, 12P
- Alfredsson: 10GP, 6G, 5A, 11P
- Preissing: 10GP, 2G, 4A, 6P
- Corvo: 10GP, 1G, 4A, 5P
Miller: 11GP, 2.06GAA, 0.927SP
- Briere: 11GP, 2G, 9A, 11P
- Drury: 11GP, 7G, 3A, 10P
- Zubrus: 11GP, 0G, 8A, 8P
- Vanek: 11GP, 5G, 2A, 7P
- Campbell: 11GP, 3G, 4A, 7P
Ottawa's keys to victory:
- Get traffic in front of Ryan Miller: It hasn't really been Miller Time in these playoffs. He's been alright, but not special, and he's definitely no Martin Brodeur. Many of the goals Miller has allowed so far have been rebounds, or shots from the point that he couldn't see or were re-directed. Speaking of shots from the point...
- Activate the defence: Did that sound like a Pierre McGuire-esque sentence? I'm sorry. But it's true. Through the off-season and up to this point, I've thought of Ottawa's roster re-design as an attempt to match-up well against the Sabres in response to last season's playoff loss. The defence was the most affected, and the speedy (if slightly smaller) d-corps has to keep up with the Buffalo forwards on defence. On the offence, take lots of shots (and hit the net!); no less than six of New York's 13 goals were shots from the point, so Ottawa's defence needs to take advantage of Miller's weakness.
- Forecheck hard: I guess it goes without saying, but the Sens need to punish Buffalo's defencemen. Comrie, Fisher, Alfie, Schubert, Neil, Vermette... they all need to make sure they finish checks on the dump-ins to wear out the Sabres D. If they finish checks, these mostly second- and third-liners should get scoring chances, and it is essential that Ottawa spread the goal scoring past the CASH line.
- Play tight on Buffalo's forwards: Volchie and Big Rig need to make sure Briere and Drury aren't able to take them through the wringer. Finish checks, but don't get stuck and don't get penalties. Afinogenov, Vanek, and Kotalik might lose interest if they are punished, but don't count on Briere or Drury giving up; checking has to be big on them. Centremen also need to backcheck, so that means Spezza will have to block a few more shots. It'll look good on him.
- Get everyone involved: Ottawa and Buffalo are pretty evenly matched, so don't be surprised if a few games go to overtime. To keep from getting worn out, the fourth line has to get more than 4-5 minutes of ice time a game. The fact that Dean McAmmond is counted on late in games and Christoph Schubert is sound defensively are proof of their reliability, and I think that Oleg Saprykin has proven his worth with his ability to forecheck and his offensive-zone cycle. Ottawa needs to take advantage of their bench, because Buffalo certainly will.
The way these teams have been playing, Ottawa should win this series--although it will be tight. I'm going to quote Bob McKenzie, and then correct him: B-Mack said that, "If you go with potential, as opposed to performance, you can go the Buffalo Sabres way." I don't agree at all. Just because Ottawa is playing up to their potential right now and the Sabres aren't does not mean the Sabres have greater potential than the Sens. If Ottawa is able to get to Miller early, as they did in Round Two with Brodeur, expect him to get dejected. He's not a veteran, and probably doesn't have the ability to rebound that Marty B had. If Ottawa is able to keep up the pace they are currently on, and Bryan Murray gets them to obey the above-mentioned keys to victory, they will be fine.
P.S. A lot of the Sabres' statistics were calculated by myself because NHL.com wasn't updated with their May 6 game stats yet. If I managed to get Miller's GAA and SP accurate, then I think I deserve a job with the NHL's statistics department.
P.P.S. Bryan Murray, if you'd like to contact me with job offers in the scouting department, I'm listening. Comment on this post and ask for my info, or something.