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Now The Real Season Begins

Buffalo vs. Boston—bring it on!

Can you feel the buzz and excitement in the air? The Stanley Cup playoffs are back in Buffalo! And while there might be some up in Toronto who think that the playoff experience is overrated, here in Buffalo we know how to party it up with best of them.

Over the next two weeks, there will be big flags on homes, smaller flags flapping in the breeze atop cars, brisk ticket sales, and resales for fans hoping to land a precious seat in the arena. Logo merchandise will fly off the shelves at the Sabres store and retail outlets.

Ah, and those “Parties in the Plaza.” On warm spring nights, thousands of fans will converge outside HSBC Arena to toast our team’s good fortune, and dare to dream once again of that moment that we Buffalonians hope to experience but once in our lifetimes—a legitimate major championship for our city, a chance to enjoy the raw jubilation of such a moment, and the parade and celebration that would happen in downtown Buffalo.

Life is pretty good right now, eh?

But amidst all the hype lies a great deal of handwringing and consternation. Never has a division championship brought on a collective “ho hum” from so many of the Sabres faithful, who question whether this team has the mettle to compete in the playoffs, let alone make a legitimate run for the Stanley Cup.

But Sabres nation has every reason to be optimistic going into this first round of play. Why? In a word: goaltending. Tuukka Rask has racked up some pretty significant numbers since wrestling the starting job away from Tim Thomas. But Buffalo’s Ryan Miller is having a career season. If anything, the Olympics experience just made him that much tougher and focused as he leads the Sabres on this bigger stage. As long as Miller is riding a hot streak, that is about as far as this team will go.

On defense, the Bruins have been pretty banged up of late. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman are not exactly having breakout saeasons. Yet the Sabres have had problems on defense of late as well. Chris Butler and Andrej Sekera have taken turns looking shaky, and Craig Rivet needs to step up not only into a leadership role as captain but also eat up minutes on his shifts and play well. The big question involves Tyler Myers. Will he embrace the playoffs and seize the moment, or will the jitters of youth and inexperience set in?

While many are expecting tight, low-scoring affairs, the re-emergence of Thomas Vanek as goal scorer just this past weekend bodes well for Buffalo, which really does have a balanced attack encompassing all four lines. Earlier this week, it was reported that Tim Connolly might be back in time for the first game, and he has been practicing with the team this week. Connolly’s brightest moments on this team have taken place during the playoffs in past seasons.

In the meantime, Boston has not exactly been a scoring machine during the regular season. Their output of 206 goals was 29th in the league, and by far the worst of any team in the playoffs.

Toss out the regular season record, where Buffalo only recorded two wins against the Bruins. The last game especially was desperation time for Boston, with Buffalo having little to play for.

The Sabres and the Bruins have a long and storied rivalry, with Buffalo winning the last two series in the playoffs—the “May Day” sweep, and the 1999 second-round win en route to the finals that year. What better a time to re-ignite this passion between these two clubs. Game on.

Round One Predictions

It’s been three years since we’ve made our prognostications for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Editor Geoff Kelly joins in with his picks in all the Eastern Conference matchups. Let’s see who does best. We will post results after the first round is concluded.

#1 Washington vs. #8 Montreal

Andrew: Washington in 6
Peter: Washington in 5
Geoff: Montreal in 6

#2 New Jersey vs. #7 Philadelphia

Andrew: New Jersey in 7
Peter: New Jersey in 4
Geoff: New Jersey in 6

#3 Buffalo vs. #6 Boston

Andrew: Buffalo in 5
Peter: Buffalo in 7
Geoff: Buffalo in 6

#4 Pittsburgh vs. #5 Ottawa

Andrew: Pittsburgh in 4
Peter: Pittsburgh in 6
Geoff: Ottawa in 7

Taro Sez...

• Ryan Miller for the Masterton Trophy? Taro likes!

• Keep an eye on the Buffalo Bandits this Friday, who very much kept their playoff hopes alive with a big 13-10 win over their arch rivals the Toronto Rock. With two games remaining in the regular season, this team could finish second and host a first-round playoff game, or finish fifth and out of the playoffs completely.

• The ECHL Elmira Jackals season is over. The team went the distance in its opening round best of five series against the Florida Everblades, losing the decisive fifth game 4-3 at First Arena in Elmira this past Sunday. Congratulations to Jackals’ forward Tyler Donati. His regular season record (36G 78A, 114 points) earned him the ECHL’s Most Valuable Player award.

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