One of the things that I always look for in the NHL playoffs is how teams play with the expectations leveled on them. Do the top point getters continue with the style of play that got them into the position they are in, or do they grip their sticks a bit tighter, when they get down a goal? Do the teams that snuck their way in, who may consider themselves to be playing with house money, play fast and loose and does that translate to success? This year you have one series which represents the scenario on both ends of the extreme….Buffalo vs. NYI
In the Sabres, you have a team that has been among the top teams of the NHL the entire season. They have without a doubt been playing for the playoffs since opening night. The argument can be made that it has been a foregone conclusion since very early into the season that the Sabres were going to make the playoffs. When a team has been this successful all year, it is always interesting to see how they react to a bit of adversity thrown their way. What happens if they lose a couple of games in the series…do they start to grind down on the sticks, since they are “supposed” to win?
The Islanders came as close as close can get with regards to getting into the playoffs. They should (and likely do) consider themselves lucky to even get a few more games to play. Given that, they are the number eight seed against the top seed in the conference…if they are being realistic, they know in the back of their minds they are supposed to lose the series. All they would need to do though is look to Ryan Smyth in the locker room who can tell them from experience that if they combine the will to outwork the opponents with some lucky breaks (always a part of hockey, and something that has a huge impact), they can beat an opponent who has been flat out better the entire year.
So the series is 2-1 Buffalo and what have we seen so far?
Game One – The Sabres were clearly the better team, playing loose and fast as they did the entire season, and almost with a sense of relief that “thank god the playoffs are here.” On the flip side, the Isles were the tight team…maybe mentally tired, but they were the ones gripping the sticks to tightly, instead of letting the game come to them.
Game Two – The Sabres again played fast and lose, but unlike Game one, the Islanders also acted as the aggressor, winning the battles in the corners, and making their chances count.
Game Three – Best game of the series so far. Both teams came to play, creating the fun to watch combination of hitting by the Isles against the finesse play of the Sabres. As with game two, the team that made the most of their chances won the game.
So far, the Sabres have played extremely well with the expectations loaded on them. As a hockey fan though I hope this series goes 7…(not because I am a Sabres hater, but because as a hockey fan, I want all series to go 7)