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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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Blown chances

The Buffalo Sabres blew an opportunity in Game six to clinch their series with the Philadelphia Flyers in front of their home crowd.  The Sabres lost 5-4 in overtime on Ville Leino’s winner.  The Sabres lost another forward in the mix and head into Game seven back in a hostile Philadelphia atmosphere.  The Sabres flew another two goal lead and the game bounced back and forth leaving fans wondering what if.  Looking forward to Tuesday is going to be great to enjoy a Game seven, but also heart wrenching at the same time.  Here’s some thoughts of the game:

First, to get this out of the way the Mike Richards hit on Tim Connolly is going to have to be looked at hard by the league.  This is his second infraction of the series and has taken Tim Connolly off the ice for at least Game seven.  The league has made a concerted effort to state that they are trying to make hockey a much safer sport.  Hits from behind driving players into the boards are as dangerous as they come and here is a chance to send a message by holding a player out of a do-or-die situation.

I have been critical of Tim Connolly’s performance in this series, but he still remained the Sabres best option as a number 1 center.  Lindy Ruff stated after the game that Derek Roy will return and should ease the loss of Connolly, however it would have been nice for the Sabres to have both healthy to give some more depth at the center position.

Danny Briere is the quintessential goal scorer. His first goal was finding room in front and putting home the loose rebound with no one putting pressure on him.  The second goal was a huge slapper on the power play that tied the game at three.  He’s driving Sabres’ fans nuts, but man is he good at hockey.  He now has 93 points in 92 career playoff games.

The Sabres blew a two goal lead.  Again.

James van Riedsdyk has continued to be a force in this series for the Flyers.  He has drove hard to the net in each game, played well on the forecheck and played a well rounded game in each game.  He’s the player that I notice the most consistent basis for the Flyers.

The Flyers goaltending situation is abysmal, but they are 2-1 in games where they make a goaltender switch and the Sabres haven’t been able to generate sufficient offense after the first period.   Boucher came in and had 24 big saves for the Flyers and held off the Sabres from continuing their first period pace.

Thomas Vanek can be an absolute beast when he’s in front of the net.  His play coupled with the play of Drew Stafford gives the Sabres two power forwards that at times are the only players that can really be a menace to opposing teams in the offensive zone.

The Sabres performed great on faceoffs which is a state I put a lot of value in and glad they won it 44-34, but the Flyers shot advantage took its toll on the Sabres.

At this point it is extremely difficult to not appreciate the type of effort and tenacity that Nathan Gerbe plays with.  His play down the stretch of the regular season as well as this playoffs shows what most fans expected of the Hobey Baker winner.  He is the type of player that fans love to root for.

Tyler Myers plays such a strong game in long stretches of the game.  He had 3 assists, but still finished -1.  I like the edge that he has incorporated into his game and just want to see him truly dominate games for an entire game.

 Three Stars

  1. Ville Leino (1 g, 1a)
  2. Danny Briere (2 g)
  3. Thomas Vanek (2g)

Is there anything better than game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs?  Tuesday night should provide an electric atmosphere and an opportunity for this group of Sabres to really put an exclamation point on this season.  The return of Derek Roy and his effectiveness are going to be the key to the game.  With the loss of Connolly they are going to need to get production from their centermen.  The Flyers are going to continue the same game plan as always and hope their goaltending doesn’t fail them.  The Flyers have played better in almost every game throughout the series, however two of the games the Sabres have had Ryan Miller refuse to let in a goal.  Not that he needs to shut the Flyers out, but I do think he is going to need to play an ‘A’ level game on the road to help his team.  The Sabres are going to need to have Ryan Miller play his best game and hopefully carry this team to the next round.  Nonetheless, Tuesday should be a lot of fun.

Follow me on Twitter: @brianbund

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