This will be a three-part series over the next day to highlight the matchups we will see on the ice when this series finally begins on Thursday night. Part Three will focus on the power play, penalty killing and intangibles like coaching, faceoffs, the ability to play in a close game and more.
Part I - Sabres Forwards vs. Bruins Defense
Part II - Sabres Defense vs. Bruins Forwards
With both teams being as good as they are defensively it could come down to the little things to decide this series. Which coach makes the best decisions? Which team gets contribution from their power play? Which team starts better in each game? There are so many factors that can contribute to the outcome of a playoff series, let's see which team has the advantage.
Boston Power Play vs. Sabres Penalty Killing - Advantage Buffalo
If not for an empty net power play goal to end the season, the Sabres might have had the best penalty kill in the NHL this season. They allowed only 38 goals and they killed off 86.6% of their opponents power plays.
The numbers for the Sabres penalty kill are staggering and they are a nightmare for the Boston Bruins. The Bruins power play has been close to awful this season and the numbers look even worse when looking at total goals. The Bruins converted 16.6% of their power play opportunities which was 23rd in the league but they scored only 44 goals which is 27th.
The Bruins lack of offensive firepower has allowed teams to not be as aggressive defensively and they don't force their opponents to take many penalties. The Sabres have been a disciplined team most of the season and they should have no problem limiting the Bruins effectiveness on the power play.
Sabres Power Play vs. Bruins Penalty Killing - Advantage Bruins
The Boston Bruins were the only team that allowed less power play goals (37) than the Buffalo Sabres. While the Sabres power play had more success than the Bruins power play this season, it will be difficult to beat the Bruins penalty kill.
The Bruins have a distinct advantage in this area but I can see the Sabres being able to have some limited success with the man advantage. If Thomas Vanek can get traffic in front of Rask and the Sabres get some shots through to the net, this will be the difference in the series.
Coaching - Advantage Buffalo
Lindy Ruff has become a master of playing head games in the playoffs. Think back to 2006 when the Sabres lost in seven games to the Canes. Buffalo played without four of their regular defensemen and still almost won the hockey game. After the game, in what should have been a time of jubilation, Rod Brindamour felt it was necessary to criticize Lindy Ruff or talking too much to the media. I would say that Lindy won the psychological war but unfortunately could not overcome the depleted lineup.
When looking at the two coaches career records there wasn't a noticeable difference in their regular season records. Claude Julien is 252-164-10-58 lifetime and Lindy Ruff is 483-361-78-62. Flip to the post-season and the records are noticeably different. Ruff has a 52-36 record, while Julien is only 14-15.
Faceoffs - Advantage Push
This is a situation where you can't judge a book by its cover. The Boston Bruins were second in the NHL with a 52.6% faceoff percentage and the Sabres were 23rd in the league with a 48.6% percentage. The advantage is huge for the Bruins but there is more to the story.
When you look at the top two players for both teams, the numbers are almost identical. Patrice Bergeron is a faceoff master for the Bruins (778W-564L - 58.0%) and David Krejci is second on the team (560W-544L - 50.7%). The Sabres numbers are eerily similar with Paul Gaustad leading the way winning 57.4%(599W-444L) of his draws. Dere Roy is second on the team at 50.4% (617W-608L).
Intangibles - Advantage Sabres
Scoring first is almost always important in the NHL and like everything else, it is magnified in the playoffs. Almost every team has a good record when they score first or when they lead after two periods, the Sabres have been simply magnificent. Buffalo was 31-6-4 when scoring first and they were the only team in the NHL that did not lose when they were leading after two periods, a perfect 30-0-0 record.
Series Prediction - Sabres in 6 Games