The Post-Lockout NHL in 2005-06 was different league, and a different culture, and a different environment than we had become accostomed to in recent years.. In this new league, the little guy had a chance. So it was fitting that 2 teams in the Eastern Finals were Carolina and Buffalo.
The Hurricanes rolled through the season into the playoffs as a two seed. The Buffalo Sabres, had finished just one spot behind the Hurricanes in the overall standings. The contentious series saw both coaches — Lindy Ruff and Laviolette take continious shots at each other.
In the tale of the tape between the two: Buffalo had the 5th ranked offense in the league, the 3rd best powerplay, 10th ranked defense, and 2nd ranked penalty kill. Carolina had the 3rd best offense, and were an extemely potent team in 5 on 5, but the Canes struggled in all other areas as they were 20th on defense, and had the NHL's 19th ranked penalty kill
This past season injuries destroyed the Sabres season in large part to injuries. I know injuries do matter, but you can only use that excuse so much, as the truely great teams can overcome them, because there is no excuse for winning 3 games in a 17 game period, no matter how banged up you are. Even the Blue Jackets can do that.
But, many Buffalo Sabres fans view the 05-06 season as their year, the year that they were robbed of the Stanley Cup and often view injuries as an excuse. Dont get me wrong, they may have been impacted by the injuries on Defense, and had they had been healthy 100%, we know the series would have been much tighter, but I personally believe that even healthy, Carolina would have won the series.
Im going to make the case that injury excuses can only go so far with 2005-06.
1.) The Sabres Powerplay let them down, plain and simple, and not just in this series, but in the entire playoffs. Brian Campbell was the most important defenseman on the team that year, and was responsible for quarterbacking that powerplay, but was neutralized, and on the whole Brian Campbell did not have a good playoffs in general with just 6 points and a -5 and quarterbacking the powerplay to a 16.2% success rate. In Carolina series, their Special Teams woes were exposed even more, when they were locked down by Rod Brind'Amour and Cam Ward. Buffalo was 6 of 34 on the powerplay, and struggled to score at even strength. The only thing I will say, but not for sure, is maybe if Tim Connolly is healthy, this is helped, but against the dominance of Cam Ward and Rod Brind'Amour? I'm not so sure, which leads me to point #2.
2.) Rod Brind'Amour and Cam Ward. Both Rod the Bod, and Cam Ward were dominant in the playoffs, and although the team was not great defensively as a whole, Rod Brind'Amour was the teams best defensive forward, as evidenced by his Selke Trophy that year, and was having a hell of a playoffs. He kicked Chris Drury's a** in the faceoff circle, and gave the Sabres trouble all series long. I'll never forget game 7 when late in the game, the Hurricanes did not let Chris Drury win one of those faceoffs. Cam Ward, was simply better than Ryan Miller through out the entire playoffs, and he outplayed every goaltender he faced. He was dominant and Conn Smythe Worthy. Would healthy defensive defensman and Tim Connolly have helped the Sabres get pucks by him with 100% certainty? Not sure. I remember how Ward played, and i'll tell you, i'd bet money that it wouldnt have made much of a difference, and again, I wonder what a healthy Erik Cole, and Oleg Tverdovsky would have done for Carolina. Cam Ward was that years version of Johnathan Quick.
3.) You couldnt play defese in the NHL in 2005-06. That season, post lockout, with the way the Rules were being enforced, there were more powerplays that year than any other season in league history. There were on average 6 or 7 powerplays per/game, and this helped the smaller and skilled up tempo teams like the Buffalo Sabres greatly, as well as the more physical and skilled, Carolina Hurricanes, among others. 17 teams in 2005-2006 scored on average 3 goals per game, and in 2012, there were only 3 who reached the average of 3. By the end of the 06-07 season, the rules were enforced less and less, and the Sabres became much more exposed. One thing that also became exposed was their trouble scoring even strength goals. On a side note, this is what ultimately led to the decline to mediocrity of the Sabres, not just the loss of Briere and Drury. in the 2006 playoffs, the only use a defenseman had was penalty killing and quarterbacking the powerplay, and Brian Campbell was extremely ineffective here. Im not saying that defense is irrelevant, but that it was much less of a factor, and ultimately, the best defense you could play, was staying out of the penalty box, and poessesing the puck.
4.) Carolina had a shoddy defense and they also had injuries themselves. I should point out that Carolina's defense was two things: old, and an average group at best. I mean, Mike Commodore was one of their best defenseman. Don't get me wrong, I really like Commodore, and I love the way he plays the game, but he's an average NHL defenseman at his peak. He did have a good year in Carolina though, and I dont think anyone will forget how popular of a player he was. The Canes were 20th in the NHL in goals against, and 19th on the penalty kill. To be fair, Martin Gerber was the starting goalie, and was average at best himself. Cam Ward in the playoffs, helped make that average defense look better than it really was. Mike Commodore and Oleg Tverdovsky were the two youngest defenseman on their roster at ages 26, and 30 respectively. Everyone else in their top 6 was over 32, but Frantisek Kaberle and Bret Hedican had good years. In fact, Frantisek Kaberle had a career year. This Carolina team was also the only team in the 2000's to win the Stanley Cup without a Norris Trophy calliber defenseman on the blueline. Again, offense and powerplays were emphasized heavily in the league that year. Want to talk about defense, the Hurricanes faced Chris Pronger in the Stanley Cup Finals, along with great defensive forwards Jarrett Stoll and Michael Peca and won it all.
5.) Carolina was also battling a couple key injuries themselves. Oleg Tverdovsky was lost in the playoffs, and although Martin Gerber was out for most of the playoffs, its a damn good thing Carolina had Cam Ward who played even better, otherwise, they Canes made not have even made it past round 2. The big one is the loss of Erik Cole. Erik Cole was Carolina's second leading scorer, and had Carolina had Cole, I would gaurentee, it wouldnt have gone to 6 games. His size/skill package would have been too much for the Sabres to handle along with the physicallity, heart, and grit of Brind'Amour, Staal, Cullen, and a young Andrew Laad and Chad LaRose. The roster that Carolina did have proved to be way too physical for the Sabres to handle.
People often talk of this Series in Buffalo, like the Sabres were almost gaurenteed the Stanley Cup win. Do people forget, they still had to beat the Chris Pronger led, and very physical Edmonton Oilers even if they would have won? They took a healthy 2 seeded Carolina team to seven games, and lets not forget, they eliminated the President's Trophy Winning Detroit Red Wings in 7 games of round 1. There were more things that went wronmg in that playoff series for Buffalo than injuries. Lindy Ruff was outcoached by Peter Laviolette, in the same fashion he outcoached him in 2011 when the Lavi's Flyers eliminated the Sabres in another game 7. They neutralized the Sabres 5 on 5 offense, Rod Brind'Amour shut down the Sabres top players, and their powerplay let them down. The Hurricanes beat them 3 times in the regular season healthy as people often forget, injuries or not, this is something Sabre fans just need to accept. They were not entitled to winning the Stanley Cup that year automatically had they of won, and thats a major diss to the Edmonton Oilers team that year. You dont see Oiler fans complaining about injuries or poor play because they lost, and holding a grudge against Carolina for robbing them of the cup they may or may not have won for sure? That Sabres team was soft, and Carolina used that to their advantage as well. How Ironic is it, that the same issues still exist with the Sabres today?
If Ruff and Lavi meet in another game 7 situation, ....I know where my money is going. And if your wondering why a Sabres fan would write something like this, and make a case for a hated team over a bitter memory, this isnt about hating the Sabres, I like the Sabres, I am a fan, and im as pessimistic as they come in a Jerry Sullivan, WGR fashion. Im not saying if Buffalo wasnt healthy that they would have won the series and the Stanley Cup. But I am saying much more went wrong in that series than people remember, Carolina had some problems go wrong themselves, and Cam Ward and Rod Brind'Amour were machines. Im also not saying it was Lindy Ruff's fault. There's plenty of blame to go around. This is mainly about being tired of every fan backing the current coach Lindy Ruff, and the current team, and making excuses for the last 5 years over and over again. Excuses are a way of life in Buffalo sports. At what point do you say there might be a problem here? We cant get over the hump with Lindy Ruff, nor can we even get close to over the hump, under him in recent years. Is there an excuse for fizzing out of the playoffs in the Boston series? Is there an excuse for choking in game 6 of the 2011 quarterfinals against Philadelphia up 3-0? Is there an excuse for winning 3 games through a period of mid-December and late January, and even controlling your own destiny at the end only to go 1-3-1 in your last 5? Is there an excuse for often having to rely on late season charges, because the team misses oppurtiunities in the middle of the season to collect points that are obtainable during the regular season? These are the same problems every team in the NHL faces.