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All good things come to an end

Game seven between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Buffalo Sabres went against the grain as it relates to the rest of the series.  The Flyers took control of the contest from the start of the game all the way until their 5-2 victory. 

The Flyers will move onto the Eastern Conference Semi-finals and their opponent is yet to be determined.  For the Sabres they have to take pride in their second half surge and new direction under Terry Pegula and company.  The Flyers were the better team for most of the previous six games and that seemed to culminate in Game seven.  Regardless of the injuries the Sabres sustained throughout the series it was unfortunate to see their season end so abruptly and harshly. 

Some thoughts on how things developed throughout Game seven:

Derek Roy should be commended for the heart and determination it must have taken to get to the point where he could play in Game seven.  He was initially told he would be done for the season and then maybe the second round of the playoffs where that thought seemed impossible for this Sabres team.  Nonetheless, Roy put the work in necessary to get back when the Sabres needed him in Game seven.  You could tell he did not have game shape which after being out for four months and dealing with a leg injury it is difficult to work yourself back into shape that quickly.  Fans should not judge him solely in regards to his performance and if Tim Connolly would have been healthy it seems uncertain if Roy would have played.

The Flyers were the much better team in each game and Ryan Miller was the reason this series and Game seven stayed close.  The Flyers put relentless pressure on the Sabres in the first period outshooting the Sabres 16-2 and creating numerous scoring opportunities. A late goal by Braydon Coburn off the face-off was deflected by Mike Grier past Miller.  The Flyers registered 36 shots and many of their earlier shots generated quality scoring opportunities. Miller’s first period performance helped hold them off the board until the Flyers broke through on that late first period goal with 20 second remaining.

Even though the Sabres won the face-off battle 37-34, Paul Gaustad lost two face-offs that led directly to the Flyers first two goals. 

The Flyers forecheck and the Sabres inability to clear their defensive zone hurt them considerably in this game.  It was a constant advantage that the Flyers enjoyed throughout the series and in Game seven they really capitalized on pressuring Miller and the Sabres.

Danny Briere had a fantastic series against his former team that was capped with a 1 goal, 1 assist performance.  He has scored 94 points in 93 career playoff games.  His departure is well documented, but it is hard to swallow for Sabres fans that a point per game playoff performer left town.  This series put the Flyers depth on showcase, especially at the center position.  His and Claude Giroux’s play carried the Flyers through difficulties in goal.

Drew Stafford is going to be an interesting component to this offseason.  Coming off a 30-goal season the forward played extremely well at times in the series, but failed to generate much on the score sheet (1g, 2a).  Where his value is set on the market is going to determine whether or not he stays with the Sabres.

Chris Butler’s regression through the series really hurt the Sabres, especially with the injury problems that the team faced with Jordan Leopold and Andrej Sekera. Hopefully the young defenseman can learn from this postseason and continue his growth going forward.

This game was more a reflection of how well the Flyers played as opposed to how poorly the Sabres played,.  The Flyers generated more offense, played a more sound defensive game and for the first time in the series played better on special teams.  The Sabres seemed overmatched and even overwhelmed by the emotion of the Game seven.  Turnovers early in their own defensive zone and shooting pucks over the Flyers goalie really hurt any potential chance of building momentum early.

Three Stars:

  1. Danny Briere (1g, 1a and proverbial pest all night)
  2. Claude Giroux (2a)
  3. James van Riedsmyk (1g and solid all around play)

Regardless of the outcome, if many Buffalo Sabres fans were told back in December that they would have the opportunity to compete in a Game seven in the first round of the playoffs they would have been completely happy with the chance.  While that is little condolence for the season being over there are many positives that can and should be taken away from the season including the new direction under new ownership.  There are many questions that management will need to address come July 1 and beyond, but fans should anticipate an exciting offseason and 2011-12 hockey season. 

Over the next weeks and months, we will take a look back on the 2010-2011 season as well as a look ahead to this offseason.

Twitter: @brianbund

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Game 7 preview

 

Here we go!

Is there anything better in sports than a game 7?  Unlike other do or die situations in the NFL and college basketball there are six games played back and forth that build animosity between the players and allow a series of story lines to unfold.  The Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres series is no different and based on the fact that every game has been decided by one goal with the exception of a late empty net goal in game 3.  The last two games have been decided in overtime.  Looking ahead, game 7 should provide an electric atmosphere in the Wells Fargo Center and for some excellent television.  Some story lines to watch for in game 7:

First and foremost, with Tim Connolly’s absence there is going to be some pressure for Derek Roy to actually produce for the Sabres.  Sabres fans would have much rather seen Roy’s addition to the lineup serve as additional depth has now turned to needing 15-20 minutes of ice time with the possibility of playing on both special teams units.

In addition to Derek Roy’s return, both Andrej Sekera and Jochen Hecht practiced with the team.  There is no way to know until probably game time who, if any out of the three return to the lineup but being able to insert any and all of these players into the lineup would be a boost for the Sabres.

Will the Flyers’ goalie situation stabilize?  Brian Boucher has been announced he will start in net and in all likelihood Sergei Bobrovsky I assume would be the backup.  The Flyers have resorted to pulling their goalie in three games this series; however they have managed a 2-1 record in those games they do so.  The Sabres need to continue to attack the Flyers’ goalies and sustain pressure for the entire 60 minutes.

Can Ryan Miller steal another game?  Two of the three wins for the Sabres have been because of Ryan Miller playing brilliant hockey resulting in two shutouts.  Miller has played well in the entire series and the Flyers put relentless pressure on him to come back in game 6.  How Miller responds and how well he plays is going to be crucial for the Sabres to advance.

Can the Sabres stop Danny Briere and Claude Giroux?  Together they have combined for 12 points in the series.  Briere’s five goals have all seemed to fall in clutch situations where the Flyers genuinely needed the lift including game 6.  Giroux has had 1 goal and 6 assists and generally had his way with controlling the puck into and through the Buffalo zone.  How well the young Sabres blue line handles these two players may go a long way to winning a road game 7.

Can someone else step up and help Thomas Vanek carry this team offensively?  Vanek has two multi-goal games in this series.  It is the first time a Sabres player has done that since Chris Drury.  Only two other Sabres have two goals, Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe.  If this team is going to compete offensively with Philadelphia they are going to need to have a more balanced attack.  Drew Stafford has played a remarkable series and at times been the Sabres most dominant player, however he only has one goal and game 7 would be a huge moment for Stafford to make his presence felt on the score sheet.

The Sabres blue line is a combined -8 for the series and as a whole the Sabres have not played well against the Flyers at even strength.  It sounds cliché to say that they need a total group effort in game 7 but this unit really does.  At times each defenseman has played extremely well in the series only to have another unit struggle and take untimely penalties.  Their ability to withstand the Flyers forecheck and reclaim the area surrounding Ryan Miller is going to be a crucial aspect of game 7.

The Sabres are 1-5 in Game 7s all-time and the Flyers are 8-6.  The road team has won 8 out of the last 10 game 7s.

Who wants to be a hero?  Game 7 provides the element of either extending or ending your season in one game.  Players have the opportunity to lift their name within franchise player history in moments like these.  Players like Danny Briere and Thomas Vanek are the likely players to continue their hot hand, however in situations like these it can come from the most unlikely of sources.  Barring a complete letdown this game has itself positioned to be a fantastic ride for hockey fans and a gut wrenching experience for fans of both teams.  As Marv Levy used to say, “Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?”

Twitter: @brianbund

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