5 Reasons to like the Sabres playoff chances

Posted on April 10, 2010 by Joe Pinzone

5) The East is weak

To give you an idea about how weak the Eastern Conference has become, if you were to take the Sabres point totals of the last two seasons and compare them to this year’s standings, the Sabres would be in the driver seat between the 6th and 7th spots for the playoffs. All of the playoff teams have weaknesses. And we aren’t talking about whether the 4th line can produce. From the Capitols and Senators goaltending issues to the Flyers duck taping together their injury ridden roster, everyone has a major weakness.

Even though the teams seem to be weak, the one thing the majority of these teams aren’t lacking is star power. From Kovalchuk, to Crosby, to Ovechkin, if any of these players get hot, look out. Of course, the Sabres have their own superstar in Ryan Miller (more on him later). In the end, in such a weak conference, all you need is a couple of players to get really hot to make a run for the cup.

4) The Sabres haven’t hit their stride

To me, the beauty about the NHL playoffs is that you can have an individual that has shown very little during the regular season, but takes off when the stakes become higher. I can remember during the 2001 playoffs, when Chris Gratton of all people, played like a man possessed against the Flyers. Gratton scored five goals and three assists during the six game series. Besides Gratton’s new found scoring ability, he was hitting everything in sight. You name it, the guy did it. As much as I’ve been on the Sabres for their inconsistency, Gratton couldn’t hold a candle to the Sabres top six forwards. In other words, Gratton sucked in comparison to them. But, he did turn it on for that specific series. Now, if Gratton can do it, why can’t Derek Roy or Jason Pominville do the same?

How in the world can a team that has been in first place for the majority of the season, haven’t really hit their stride? Easy, if you look at the Sabres individually, you can only really name a handful of players that have had a better than advertised year. The top six forwards seem to be the heart of the inconsistency. Yes, there were spurts this season when Derek Roy or Thomas Vanek would go on a 4-5 game tear, but they seemed few and far in between.

However, you can’t ignore what some of the top six forwards have done in the past. Vanek is a two time 40 goal scorer. Tim Connolly has the ability to take over a game or a series. If you look at the history of the Sabres roster, they have proven that they have guys who can put the puck in the back of the net. If there’s one thing we haven’t seen this season, it’s having a duo like Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek put together great performances in the same game.

It always seems that (Insert top six forward’s name) goes on a hot streak and then cools down; only to have (Insert top six forward’s name) take over where he left off. If the Sabres can actually have a series of games where their top six forwards can collectively work together, the team is going to be playing hockey in May.

3) Sabres defensemen

Yes, Lindy Ruff has kind of made it a revolving door between the 3rd and 6th defensemen for the Sabres. But, as much credit as we give Ryan Miller for his stout play, some of that credit has to go to the Sabres blue liners in helping Miller have, at times, an easy night behind the pipes. To me, this is the best the Sabres defensemen have looked in their own zone since the 05/06 season.

It all starts with rookie phenom, Tyler Myers. Yes, besides being very tall, Myers has far and away been their best blue liner this season. It’s as if every game, Myers does something that you never thought he could do. Whether it’s skating coast to coast, breaking up a 2 on zero break, or pinching in on the offensive zone, Myers is dressed to impress. To think that the guy has one less point than Thomas Vanek is remarkable…or scary for Vanek.

After Myers, you then have to give it up for Henrik Tallinder. The Sweden born player has to be the Sabres comeback player of the year. The guy had really struggled over the last 2-3 years and wasn’t exactly the most popular player amongst Sabres fans. Whether his play has improved because of his pairing with Myers, you can’t ignore how he’s played some very tough stay at home defense this season. It’s a tough match-up for him to go against the opposition’s best scoring line, but Tallinder and Myers have done a great job with that responsibility.

Tallinder is going to be heavily counted on in the playoffs, because he’s only one of two defensemen to have playoff experience. All due respect to Craig Rivet, but I’m counting on Tallinder more so than you. On a side note, let’s hope the Sabres decide to resign him in the off season.

After Tallinder and Myers, it has been kind of an up and down rotation for the Sabres defensemen. Steve Montador is kind of the epitome of the rest of the squad. At times, Montador looks like the Sabres best defenseman on the ice, but at other times, he looks like a reincarnation of Mike Wilson and Dmitri Kalinin.

But let’s be honest, even though some of the individuals on the blue line have struggled at times, you really couldn’t tell because they play such great team defense. The blue line shouldn’t be an issue for the Sabres in the postseason; only a positive.

2)The man behind the bench

You could always make the case that Lindy Ruff is the face of the Sabres franchise. He’s the conscious and Teflon don of the team. No one would dare call for Lindy Ruff’s job and I’m not going to start either. He’s coached 88 playoff games for the Sabres, winning 10 playoff series during that span. Ruff has won every which way possible in the playoffs. He’s done it with either a superb hard hitting defense or a fast pace offensive style.

Ruff is the type of coach that can adapt his coaching philosophy to his opponent. If the Sabres are playing the Penguins, Ruff would more than likely play a defensive hockey style to slow down the likes of Crosby and Malkin. If the match-up is against an offensively challenged squad, I’m sure Ruff would try and have the Sabres open it up and take some offensive challenges.

The other thing going for Ruff is that he’s coached Sabres teams deep into the playoffs that weren’t really high on talent. The Sabres teams that made it to the EC Finals in 98′ and the Stanley Cup Finals in 99′ were a one man show with Hasek and a couple of decent role players. Hmmm..Kind of reminds me of this year’s version of the squad. If there are any coaches in the NHL that can do the most with very little talent, it’s Ruff.

1) I don’t need a 4-year degree to tell you this

Look, I get that a lot of Sabres apologists are trying to make themselves feel better about this team by including other players as an intricate part of the team’s success. Let’s stop with the non-sense. Ryan Miller is the lone reason this team has a division title. Without him, my blog would be a daily bashing of Tom Golisano, Larry Quinn and Darcy Regier. Miller is the backbone of this team. He has proven that he can carry a team when the stakes are at its highest.

He’s the MVP of the team and is the best goaltender in the world. If you believe the formula that great goaltending can carry your team to the Finals, then you have to love the Sabres chances in the playoffs. From the Jersey teams to Jean Sebastien Giguere, great goaltending can trump the star power of offensive players.

The biggest question going into this season was whether Miller could handle the physical and mental pressure of being the Sabres key to success. Obviously, he’s succeeded with his regular season and Olympic performances. If Miller can play like he did in the Olympics, the Sabres are going to do some serious damage in the playoffs. The question is…can Derek Roy or Thomas Vanek do their best Zach Parise?

(Joe is a Buffalo State graduate living in New York City as a freelancer on TV shows for different networks.  He also has his own outstanding sports blog called JoeFromNYC.  You can read this post and many other interesting takes and insight by visiting his blog right here)

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