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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Sabres, Game 6

The Bruins will make their second attempt at ousting the Buffalo Sabres, as they host Game 6 of their opening round playoff series at TD Garden tonight.

Boston got some welcome news Saturday from the league offices, as they rescinded captain Zdeno Chara’s instigator penalty that he was given at the end of Friday’s 4-1 loss in Game 5. Chara, who was responding to Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad’s physicality at game’s end, was initially given the penalty that would have suspended the defenseman for tonight’s pivotal Game 6. Instead, Big Z will be on the ice, helping his team try to advance to the second round with a win tonight, and avoid having to travel back to Buffalo for a deciding Game 7.

Let’s now take a gander at a few more game notes to get you ready for what promises to be another physical, edge-of-your-seat thriller down on Causeway Street…

  • Boston is 16-3 in series where they have enjoyed a 3-2 advantage. They have won their last four home games, dating back to the last week of the regular season, so winning tonight while they have home ice advantage would be ideal.
  • Buffalo kept their streak alive of scoring first in each game of this series, lighting the lamp early and often in Game 5. The Sabres got out to a 3-0 lead before Boston was able to get on the board Friday, eventually falling to Buffalo 4-1 as a final.
  • Big scorers, one for each team, will possibly make their returns tonight, with one more probable than the other. Thomas Vanek, who hasn’t been on the ice since sustaining a left ankle injury early in Game 2, will likely make his return to the Buffalo lineup for tonight’s Game 6. Head coach Lindy Ruff has said that it is up to Vanek whether or not he feels ready and able to give it a go tonight. He skated this morning with the team, and I would be shocked if he doesn’t play tonight. On the flip side, Marc Savard is inching closer and closer to making a return of his own. The centerman practiced with the team for 90 minutes Sunday, while also taking to the ice this morning for the team’s optional skate. He is scheduled for his final neuro-psych test this afternoon, at which time he may finally receive medical clearance to return to game action. Even if he does receive that clearance however, many folks close to the team still consider Savard doubtful for tonight’s game.
  • Even if Savard doesn’t crack the lineup this evening, look for other changes made along the forward lines, highlighted by the reuniting of long-time linemates Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm. Sturm, who had been skating on the Krejci-Satan line for Games 1 through 5, will likely join Bergeron and Mark Recchi for the start of Game 6. Milan Lucic, who has been bouncing back and forth from the top line and fourth line, will likely settle in with Krejci and Satan, while Daniel Paille will return to fourth-line duty with Steve Begin and Shawn Thornton. The team’s third line remained unchanged at Sunday’s practice, keeping wingers Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder paired up with energetic center Vladimir Sobotka.
  • With Vanek eyeing his return tonight, the Sabres are hoping he can provide an offensive spark for the team, especially on the man-advantage. Buffalo has gone 0-for-16 thus far in the series on the power play, but with the potential addition of their regular season goal-scoring leader, Buffalo’s special teams could play a major role in whether they live to see another day.
  • Without Vanek, other Sabres have been left to pick up the slack on the score sheet, and forward Tyler Ennis has done just that. While team leaders like Derek Roy and Jason Pominville have been kept in check through much of this series, it has been Ennis who has elevated his level of play, leading the team with four points in the series. Ennis appeared in just 10 regular season games for the Sabres, spending the majority of the year with the team’s AHL affiliate in Portland, ME.
  • And lastly, looking briefly around the league, half of the NHL’s eight opening round playoff series have now seen their end, with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, San Jose, and Vancouver advancing to the Conference semifinals. Three more teams can punch their ticket tonight to the NHL’s version of the “Elite 8,” with Washington, Chicago, and the Bruins needing just one more win to finish off their respective opponents. In the one other remaining series, Detroit will travel to Phoenix Tuesday night for Game 7 of their series.

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