For those of you who do not recall a fateful night in February, this is all you need to know about the Eastern Conference Finals between Ottawa and Buffalo.
These teams do not like each other.
Not even a bit. As if it was not enough the Sabres have knocked the Senators out of the playoffs three times, the two teams engaged in a compelling brawl Feb. 22 at the Hot Sauce and Blue Cheese... err, HSBC... Arena.
What started as a hit by Chris Neil on Chris Drury led to a line brawl on the next shift with Ray Emery -- yes, the goaltender -- taking on Buffalo tough guy Andrew Peters in the main event.
The gloves may not come off on the ice in the same manner this time around -- at least not for Emery -- but the gloves are off in the press conferences. After Emery expressed concern about what there would be to do in Buffalo during downtime, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff suggested he could rent a Hummer and go for a drive.
Emery made headlines last round when his H2 truck was involved in a minor traffic accident on the way to the airport, causing him to miss the team's charter to New Jersey.
The pre-series hype feels like a late 90s series between Colorado and Detroit, and it might just come down to that on the ice. Once considered too soft to win in the playoffs, Ottawa has turned into an entertaining, gritty squad. The superstars like Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson will not back down when the going gets tough, and it gets more physical from there.
Chris Neil is one of the league's most talented pugilists -- in fact, it would be erroneous to refer to him simply as an enforcer. Dean McAmmond and Mike Fisher add more grit up front, and the rearguards are equally impressive.
Anton Volchenkov ranks among league leaders in hits and blocked shots, and there is much to like about his underrated game. Paired with Chris Phillips, this duo becomes a nightmare for the opposition's top line.
For Buffalo, it is a good thing they do not have a top line. Rather, they have four lines that rank somewhere between a first and second line. Yes, these Sabres are good -- scary good -- as legendary play by play man Rick Jeanneret would say.
Chris Drury is one of the league's best clutch scorers, yet he is used on a shutdown line. And what team would not be envious of this list: Daniel Briere, Thomas Vanek, Maxim Afinogenov, Dainus Zubrus, Tim Connolly, Ales Kotalik, Derek Roy. When Jason Pominville -- whose jersey is in the top ten for sales in the entire NHL -- is on your fourth line, that is the definition of depth.
Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder comprise Buffalo's top defensive duo, but for the Sabres, it is defense by committee. Brian Campbell is on the third defensive unit, but he plays the point on the power play. As with everything else in Buffalo, it is not about top end talent as much as it is about depth.
The Sabres have a wildly entertaining offensive attack, often coming at their opponents in waves. Many of Buffalo's rushes start of center ice turnovers, which could be a key to this series. Ottawa has shown a penchant for turning over the puck between the bluelines, and if that happens in this series, the Sabres will make them pay.
Two young goaltenders who do not lack in confidence will man the nets in this series. Buffalo's Ryan Miller and Ottawa's Ray Emery have faced each other on many occasions through the NHL and AHL, so there are no surprises. Both have looked good through the first two rounds, and there is no reason to believe that will change in the conference finals.
PREDICTION: By mid-February, it became clear these were the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. The series could come down to a bounce, a shorthanded goal, or a key turnover. Give a slight edge to Buffalo in what should be a wildly entertaining seven-game series. Sabres in seven.