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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Sabres, Game 1

We weren’t sure whether or not the Boston area would get to enjoy playoff hockey this spring, but after a healthy winning streak to round out the regular season, not only are the Bruins (39-30-13, 91 points) in the playoffs, they got themselves up into the sixth seed in the East. Now, instead of having to facing one of the top ranked teams in the East, they face off in Round 1 against Northeast Division champs, the Buffalo Sabres (45-27-10, 100 points), the third seed.

Boston won four of six over their former Adams Division rivals this season. But two of those four wins came against goaltenders other than U.S. Olympic star Ryan Miller, who has turned himself into a household name this season with his stellar play both in a Buffalo and American uniform.

We’ve got lots of juicy playoff preview tidbits to throw at you before we drop the puck on tonight’s series opener, so let’s get right to it…

  • Boston has won five of the seven playoff series played between these two franchises. The B’s won the first five (’82, ’83, ’88, ’89, 92), with Buffalo winning the last two, highlighted by a second-round series win in the ’99 playoffs, en route to Buffalo’s last Stanley Cup Final appearance, when they fell to the eventual champs, Dallas.
  • No doubt, this series will hinge on the pair of men manning the creases, proven stud Ryan Miller against the young, untested Tuukka Rask (22-12-5, 1.97GAA, .931 save pct.). Miller (41-18-8, 2.22GAA, .929 save pct.) had stats worthy of Vezina consideration this season, with only Rask’s GAA and save pct. mark bettering that of Miller’s. Miller went 2-0-2 in his four games against Boston this season, with Rask putting up a 4-1-0 mark against the Sabres, with an impressive 1.43GAA. We’ll have to see how Tuukka handles the playoff jitters, making his first career playoff start this evening.
  • Winning tonight’s Game 1 will be a tall task, especially against a Sabres team coached by one of the best around, Lindy Ruff. In his 12th season with Buffalo (Boston has had 7 coaches in that span), Ruff has his team making their 7th playoff appearance during his tenure, and first since 2007. He is an impressive 12-4 in game 1’s in his coaching career.
  • Injuries to key players on both sides will certainly play a role in this series, as both squads are without some of their top performers. For Boston, Marc Savard (concussion), Mark Stuart (infection), and Dennis Seidenberg (wrist) will miss the entire first round and possibly beyond, while defenseman Andrew Ference (groin) did skate this morning with the team and is likely to return to the lineup this evening. Buffalo will be missing winger Jochen Hecht from the lineup during this series, as he underwent finger surgery this past week. The Sabres will also be without the services of forward Drew Stafford (concussion), but may have Tim Connolly (foot) back in action tonight, depending on how he feels at the team’s pre-game skate.
  • Goals will likely be at a premium throughout this series, with Boston boasting the NHL’s second best goals against average at 2.33, while Buffalo ranks fourth at 2.45. Couple that with the Bruins’ lack of offensive punch, and we may be in for some 1-0 and 2-1 games.
  • David Krejci, who ended up tied atop the Bruins stat sheet with fellow centerman Patrice Bergeron, with a season-ending points total of 52, ended the regular season with a 12-points-in-11-games streak, while captain Zdeno Chara enjoyed great success against Buffalo this year, posting a goal and six assists in six games, with a team-leading +9 mark. For Buffalo, the hottest points streak belongs to veteran forward Thomas Vanek, whose five goals in the last two regular season games included a four-goal performance Saturday in the team’s home-ice finale. Tyler Myers, the team’s formidable rookie defenseman, was the team’s leading scorer against the B’s this season, posting two goals and three assists.
  • The only Buffalo Sabre with Bruins experience is former B’s defenseman Steve Montador, who came to Boston from Anaheim during last season’s trade deadline. Beyond that, Buffalo features former B.U. Terrier Mike Grier and former B.C. Eagle Nathan Gerbe. On the Boston roster, several players and coaches have ties to the Sabres organization, including Daniel Paille, who was traded from Buffalo to Boston earlier this season, Miroslav Satan, who played for the Sabres from 1996-2004, leading the team in scoring in six different seasons, and assistant coach Doug Houda, who played and coached for Buffalo’s AHL affiliates in Rochester.

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