The Sabres stay in the New York arean after eliminating the Islanders in a hard fought 5 game series 4-1. While the result is what most expected, the Sabres seemed to struggle at times against the eighth seeded Isles.
The Rangers were dominant, sweeping a struggling Thrashers team that lost most of its momentum in round 1. But this will be a much different series for both teams.
For the Sabres, they will look to play a much more complete series then they did against the Islanders. Outside of Game 1, the team did not show their dominant offensive side, deciding instead to focus on playing steady defense and forcing the opposition to make the first move.
The Rangers will be much more willing to play the Sabres style of game, especially their number 1 line of Jaromir Jagr, Michael Nylander and Marcel Hossa. But the Rangers have another big key in king pest Sean Avery, who will do everything he can to rattle the Sabres cage. Henrik Lundqvist enjoyed a very good series against the Thrashers, but only faced the Sabres once this past regular season.
The key for the Sabres will be to play their game and not fall into the Rangers game. They must keep the puck moving and play a puck control style, while still being willing to hit with guys like Avery, Blair Betts and Ryan Hollweg. The Sabres should be able to skate around a less than mobile Rangers defense, particularly against the likes of Paul Mara. Getting anything and everything on Lundquist could help to crack him early in the series.
Forwards: Buffalo has the speed and skill spread across 4 lines that no team in the league can match when they are on their game. Chris Drury and Danius Zubrus should see a ton of Jagr and Nylander, but Lindy Ruff says he will not match lines for the sake of matchup, saying it will kill the flow of his 4 line rotation. Derek Roy could also see time against the Jagr Line.
The Rangers have two very capable scoring lines with Jagr-Nylander-Hossa and Martin Straka centering Avery and former Sabre killer Brendan Shanahan. Ryan Hollweg and Colton Orr will be out to add some punch and will likely face off with Adam Mair and Ales Kotalik when the 4th lines collide.
Defense: The Sabres will likely shadow number 1 pairing Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman against the Jagr line, while Teepo Numminen and Dmitri Kalinin may see the Straka line. All 6 defenseman will not hestitate to jump into the play if the moment presents itself. Jaro Spacek has added a new dimension to the powerplay when he can get the big shot in from the point.
The Rangers offer their own combo of Marek Malik and Michal Rozsival to go againts the opponents top line. Look to see them match up against the Daniel Briere line at most times. Fedor Tyutin is strong offensively, but can be beat by a strong offensive rush. Paul Mara will hit, but his lack of speed will make him easy pray at times for guys like Thomas Vanek and Maxim Afinogenov.
This has the makings of a fantastic matchup between Ryan Miller and Henrik Lundqvist, two second year goaltenders who have established themselves as very good to elite netminders. Lundqvist was phenomenal (4-0, 1.50 GAA) against the Thrashers, but the Sabres offer a different dimension that the Thrashers dont.
Ryan Miller was solid in goal against the Islanders, but the Sabres defense as a team left him out to dry in the third period of Game 5. Miller wont put up huge numbers, but can always be counted on to make the big save when needed. Lundqvist is the more likely to steal a game for the Rangers.
The Sabres powerplay enjoyed some success against the Islanders, converting at just over 16%. The return of Tin Connolly helped provide some much needed creativity. Jaro Spacek has seen more time back there to give the Sabres a big time shot back there. Look to see them also re-integrate their 5 forward PP strategy that worked so well last season.
The Sabres penalty killing was the talk of the series for many fans, as they were much better at shutting down the Islanders, especially in key situations. Against a strong Rangers powerplay, the Sabres much acheieve that same level of success. In 4 games this season against the Rangers, the Sabres allowed 7 powerplay goals in 24 attempts.
The Rangers powerplay was deadly against the Thrashers and will need to be again to give the team a chance to win in this series. Brendan Shanahan lead the team in powerplay goals this season.
The Rangers PK was also good against a bad Thrashers team. They did not let the Thrashers big guns set up, so Buffalo will need to be much more patient with the puck and look for the open man.
There are not too many coaches in the league who can macth Lindy Ruff in a tactical sense. Lindy will keep his four lines rolling at all times and will look to create offensive mismatches in order to get more opportunities in the offensive zone. He will likely use all 4 lines to contain the Rangers first line, but look for Tallinder and Lydman to be on the ice whenever Jagr is.
Tom Renney will continue to preach the Rangers to stay back and not get in a track meet with the Sabres. Coaching could be the difference in this series.
Keys to the series: The Rangers will give the Sabres all they can handle and then some. They will not be afraid to take the body and try to physically wear the Sabres down. If they are going to beat the Sabres, they must outhit them and keep the scoring chances down, while takinbg advantage of their own opportunities.The powerplay must be clocking because they will have a hard time beating the Sabres at 5 on 5.
For Buffalo, 3 key things stand out:
1. Stay out of the Penalty Box: The Sabres PK could not handle the Rangers PP in the regular season, and disciplined play, especially with Sean Avery skating around, will be preached hard.
2. Contain Jagr: You cant shut him down completely, but you must limit the time and space he gets to make plays. Its no secret the more you hit Jagr, the less interested he gets in playing. Look for guys like Drew Stafford and Zubrus to hit him at will, and Derek Roy to be a thorn in his side.
3. Get the puck on net: Wearing down Lundqvist is a big key. He didnt face much pressure against Atlanta. Buffalo will surely give him a good diet of vulcanized rubber.
Prediction: While the Rangers will be tough, the Sabres will be ready to play and much more awake for this series then they were against the Islanders. Look for the Sabres expierence and offensive firepower to win out.
Sabres in 6