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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Sabres, Game 4

The Bruins will look to take a commanding 3-1 advantage in their opening round series against the Sabres tonight, hosting Buffalo at TD Garden for Game 4. Boston will aim at building from their huge Game 3 win, when with the help of a late Patrice Bergeron goal, the B’s took their first lead of the series, and now can push the higher-seeded Sabres to the brink of elimination with another victory this evening.

Bruins headlines since Monday’s Game 3 win have centered around the improving health of center Marc Savard, who has taken to the ice this week for the first time since suffering a concussion on March 7th, thanks to a high hit to the head from Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke. Savard, who passed a neuro-psych exam yesterday, could begin practicing with the team later this week. He will not see action tonight, but if all goes well and he gets proper medical clearance, Savard could be added to the lineup later on in the series.

Buffalo is also battling through injuries to some of their top performers as well. The team’s leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who missed Monday’s Game 3 with a left leg injury, rejoined the team at their morning skate today and felt good. Head coach Lindy Ruff is terming Vanek as a “game-time decision,” but my feeling is he’ll likely play, even if he’s at 80%-90%. The Sabres will however, be without another forward, Matt Ellis, whose sore shoulder and broken nose will cause him to be out of the lineup tonight for Game 4. Ellis sustained these bumps and bruises as a recipient of a hard open-ice hit by Boston’s Johnny Boychuk in the second period of Monday’s tilt. Replacing Ellis in the lineup will be AHL call-up Cody McCormick, who physical, brash style of play could lend to some agitated exchanges between the two squads this evening.

Let’s dive in a little further and check out a few other pre-game notes, heading into tonight’s big game…

  • The common opinion among most NHL gurus before this series began had Buffalo enjoying an advantage in net with Ryan Miller over Boston and the inexperienced Tuukka Rask. With three games in the books, Rask has experts singing a different tune. Tuukka has remained his calm, cool, and collected self through the opening games of his first playoff tour, with his superior play from the regular season carrying over to the playoff run thus far. He has allowed just 14 goals in his last ten overall games, peaking at exactly the right time.
  • Buffalo has scored first in all three games in the series, but have blown that early 1-0 lead in each of their last two games.
  • The Sabres are one of three playoff teams still scoreless on the man advantage, having gone 0-for-12 on the power play through the first three games. Boston, in contrast, is just 1-for-6.
  • In their franchise history, Buffalo has never rebounded from a 2-1 series deficit. The Sabres are 0-12 in series when they fall behind 2-1 after three games. That news has to make Bruins fans smile, but this next stat will wipe that smile off your face pretty quick. The last two times when Boston enjoyed a 2-1 series lead, they have blown them both and lost the series, dating back to a 1994 series loss to the Devils, and the heartbreaking 2004 playoff loss to the rival Canadiens.
  • Lastly, Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff is not considering tonight’s Game 4 a “must-win,” but instead a “must-play-well game.” I would tend to disagree. Buffalo has to win this game if they have a shot at advancing. Teams that fall behind 3-1 in the NHL playoffs come back to win the series just 9% of the time. So sure, it can be done… but Ruff can’t discount the importance of tonight’s game, especially for his Sabres.

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