2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – First Round Series Preview
Eastern Conference - (7) Buffalo Sabres vs. (2) Philadelphia Flyers
In 1975, the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Buffalo Sabres to win the Stanley Cup championship. This spring, the stakes aren’t as high, but then again, one can’t lift the Cup without getting past the first round. These bitter and familiar foes might stand at opposite ends of the seeding ladder, but in light of the fact that Philadelphia raced to the Cup finals last year with a No. 7 seed, it’s fair to say that this series is very much up for grabs.
Will the Flyers’ late-season struggles affect them in this first round series? Yes, the playoffs give them a clean slate but will they be able to just flip the switch at a moment’s notice? The 2011 version of the Broad Street Bullies dropped 16 of its final 25 games (9-9-7) and five of its last six (1-3-2) to enter the playoffs with something less than full-tilt momentum.
The key in this showdown will be the Sabres’ offensive attack, which ranks ninth in the league, against the question-laden goaltending of the Flyers. Peter Laviolette, the head coach of the Flyers who skippered the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010, has two options here. He could go with rookie net minder Sergei Bobrovsky, who had an unbelievable year until the team started to struggle, or he could go with veteran Brian Boucher, who has won a number of playoff games for the club over the past few years but has never been known for his consistency in net. Also, it is important to note that the Flyers just recently called up Goalie Michael Leighton from the AHL. It is worth remembering Leighton was the man who carried the Flyers to the Cup finals last year.
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Laviolette could get into a situation where he faces “paralysis by analysis.” If Bobrovsky is anything less than convincing in the first two games of this series, expect Boucher to get the call in Buffalo for Game 3, setting off what could be a merry-go-round in the Flyers’ goal and creating a very unstable series. It needs to be said that in the realm of goaltending, the Sabres – backstopped by Ryan Miller, who is regaining form after an upper-body injury suffered a few weeks ago – own a pronounced advantage. If Bobrovsky allows just one soft goal in a tight game, that could be enough to fuel a Buffalo upset.
As something of a postscript, keep in mind that Sabres have been basically been playing ‘playoff hockey’ for months now since they were fighting for one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots. Philadelphia must regain the winning edge it showed in the first three months of the season. If it can’t, the season will come to a quick end for the defending East champs.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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