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?”