The Sabres Observer
by @DaveDavisHockey on 04/11/11 at 03:02 PM ET
If I had a dollar for every time over the past few weeks that I heard a Buffalo fan or media type tell me that the Flyers were the team they most wanted the Sabres to face in the first round, I think I’d be able to afford a sizable down payment for Brad Richards.
The excitement level here is off the charts. 85% of the 6000 people that have voted in radio and newspaper web site prediction polls are choosing the Sabres to win. At both the supermarket and the gas station, I overheard giddy fans discussing what a paper tiger Philly is. While enjoying a rare April 70-degree day at the marina, I could’ve sworn I saw a group of seagulls flying in the formation of crossed swords.
Spring feels so much better in Buffalo when there’s playoff hockey, and the fact that the fans got the dancing partner of their choosing has ramped up the hysteria and anticipation a little bit more. For me, all of this enthusiasm from these raised expectations begs just one question.
Am I the only one in this town that thinks the Flyers have a better team?
Fans in 16 different cities have convinced themselves that their team is winning the Cup, so the poll voting results don’t surprise me. What I don’t agree with, however, is the notion that the path of least resistance for the Sabres to skate past the first round goes through Philadelphia.
For me, the Flyers were actually the team in the top four of the East that I least wanted the Sabres to face.
How much of the talk about the slump in Philly is overblown? Without defensive MVP Chris Pronger in the lineup, they lost 4 out of 16 games in regulation despite looking lethargic at times. Sorry folks, but you can’t count shootout losses when trying to quantify a slump for playoff prediction purposes. And in the past few weeks, the Flyers lost 4 out of their 5 games that were decided by breakaway contests. How many of those 16 games would they have lost if their season was on the line?
During that same period, the Sabres and Penguins also lost four games in regulation. The Capitals only lost three. Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins prodded along at an 8-6-3 clip. If you think nervous Flyers fans have been complaining, you should hear what they’ve been saying in Boston over the past month.
I would’ve been less uncomfortable facing a slower and less potent Bruins team. I know what happened last April, but I still contend that Buffalo’s power play lost that series. And Ryan Miller, with his 2.13 goals against average and .929 save percentage over the last five weeks of this season, would be a good counter to Vezina favorite Tim Thomas.
I’d be more than willing to take my chances against a Penguins team without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Look long and hard at the lineups of both Pennsylvania teams and try to say with a straight face you don’t feel the same way.
Washington may or may not be a train wreck waiting to happen again, but injuries to their defense and a history of playoff slumps by some of their top forwards means they would’ve been a better option than facing the Flyers, a loaded team being cast aside by some pundits with surprising irreverence.
Exhibit A can be found by looking no further than Pronger. I’m no doctor, but I have a hard time believing that we won’t see a lot of him during this series. He’s been out since early March, which not coincidentally was right around the time when the Flyers fell into their slump. It seems like Sabres Nation is overlooking just how much Pronger means to that club. There’s a reason why the last three teams for which he’s played have advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In an NHL where championships have been won lately by teams with more goal-scoring forwards, the Flyers are stocked with them. They led the East with 259 goals, just three fewer than league leading Vancouver. Any of their top three forward lines could be the first tandem on more than a few teams. The thought of Daniel Briere raising havoc from his office behind the Sabres net isn’t very enticing.
The goaltending debate is intriguing because it’s the one area where the Sabres have an edge. But how can you not attribute some of the recent struggles of Sergei Bobrovsky to the loss of his stalwart defenseman? His 2.85 GAA and .908 save percentage in the last 11 games without Pronger are weak but not eye-popping stats.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m totally on board with the excitement. A 16-4-4 run makes it easy to think big. There’s nothing in sports that compares to the intensity and fun of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Nothing. And who knows, maybe Pronger is more injured than any of us know.
I’m just not afraid to admit that, in the interest of objectivity and at the risk of facing the ire of a few readers, I’d have rather seen the Leafs beat the Canadiens Saturday so that the Habs would be the ones dancing with this partner.
Because, personally, I think she looks kind of scary.
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About The Sabres Observer
Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003. He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene. Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]