Not many people are expecting the Sabres to go far in the playoffs, unless you are quite an optimistic fan. Buffalo’s chances do not look good going up against Washington or Pittsburgh, which is why winning the Northeast Division is a must.
The Sabres have been slumping for a while now, and Ottawa and Montreal are coming closer with each win. Buffalo has lost 16 of its last 20 and now have a three point lead over the Senators. So what happens if the Sabres drop out of the division lead?
It is imperative that Buffalo wins the division this season. If they are unable to, they are going to have a tough challenge in the first round of the playoffs. If they can win the division, they will most likely face Ottawa, Montreal, Philadelphia, or Boston.
Here are the potential matchups if the Sabres can win the division:
Buffalo vs. Ottawa: Senators lead season series 4-0. These two teams have met in the playoffs twice in the last four years. Both of those series ended with a game five shorthanded overtime goal. It would make for an exciting macthup, even though the Senators have won all four meetings so far.
Buffalo vs. Montreal: Sabres lead season series 3-1. Three of the four meetings have been decided by one goal. Buffalo may have a better chance against the Canadiens than the Senators since they have three wins against them.
Buffalo vs. Philadelphia: Sabres won season series 3-1. Always a good matchup. The Flyers and Sabres bring an exciting rivalry to the table every time they play. Sabres fans would love to see Briere in Buffalo for a seven game series. This matchup could also favor the Sabres.
Buffalo vs. Boston: Bruins lead season series 4-0. This is a bit of a surprise considering how well the Sabres did against the Bruins over the past few years. A matchup with Boston may look good for the Sabres, but they haven’t beat them all season. Then again, anything could happen in the playoffs.
Montreal and Philadelphia seem to be the teams Buffalo would have the best chance against, based on their season success against them.
Now, if the Sabres drop out of the division lead, everything becomes much more difficult. Then you can factor New Jersey and Pittsburgh into the equation as well. Playing one of these teams in the playoffs isn’t easy.
Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh: Penguins won season series 3-1. There are a few reasons this would not be good for the Sabres. Besides the fact that the Penguins are extremely talented, Sidney Crosby has found ways to score against Ryan Miller. This could be the least favorable matchup for Buffalo.
Buffalo vs. New Jersey: Sabres lead season series 2-1. Miller vs. Brodeur would make a great goaltending matchup, but other than that, the Devils are boring. Even with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, the Devils play the trap, slowing everything down.
Regardless of who the Sabres face, it is going to be a challenge. You have to beat good teams to be one of the best, and you can’t hope to get lucky with matchups. The point is that the better the Sabres can finish, the better their chance of winning is, at least in the first round.
Kevin "underdog" Freiheit