Buffalo Sabres Fan Guide to the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs
With the sheer number of former Buffalo Sabres players scattered across the NHL, there's a decent chance that at least one former Sabre will make it to the Stanley Cup Final, or win hockey's ultimate prize.
All other biases aside, here's a quick glance at each first-round playoff series and the former Sabres you can cheer for, if you're so inclined. Or, you can cheer for them to fail, if you'd rather go that route. Totally up to you!
Boston Bruins vs. Florida Panthers
Boston: Linus Ullmark, Taylor Hall
Florida: Sam Reinhart, Eric Staal, Casey Fitzgerald, Brandon Montour
Linus Ullmark has to be the feel-good story when it comes to former Sabres. Ullmark has seen an incredible amount of success this season on an incredibly talented Bruins team. He's really found his stride over the past two seasons in Boston after toiling away in Buffalo for several years. This season, Ullmark is 40-6-0-1 with a .938 save percentage and 1.89 GAA. He and Jeremy Swayman won the William M. Jennings Trophy this season.
On the flip side, our old pal Sam Reinhart had another strong season with the Panthers. He skated in all 82 regular-season games, putting up 67 points - 31 goals and 36 assists. Montour set new career highs in goals, assists and points, as he nearly doubled his production from last season. He skated in 80 games, putting up a whopping 73 points from the backend.
Shoutout to Buffalo native Nick Foligno (Bruins) in this series.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto: Ryan O'Reilly, Jake McCabe
Tampa Bay: Zach Bogosian, Brandon Hagel
Plenty of former Sabres connections in this series. Bogosian, of course, already won a Stanley Cup with said Lightning in 2020. O'Reilly, meanwhile, has enjoyed a fresh start with his 'hometown' team, putting up 11 points in 13 games since joining the Leafs.
Jake McCabe has been enjoying a spot in the Leafs' top defensive pairing and skated in 21 regular-season games with the club since being traded by Chicago.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Islanders
New York: Hudson Fasching
Ah, Hudson Fasching. It's hard to think of anything else right now than the game where he appeared to kick in the game-winning goal against the Sabres earlier this season. That game, quite literally, could have been the difference between Buffalo making the playoffs and not. Not that you should be bitter or anything.
New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers
New Jersey: Curtis Lazar
New York: Jimmy Vesey, Jaroslav Halak
Curtis Lazar will forever be that dude who picked up a cheeseburger off the ice and ate it. Sorry, I don't make the rules. Lazar only joined the Devils in mid-March after being traded by the Canucks at the deadline and skated in four games with the team. He also just finished rehabbing an injury, so we'll see if he actually plays.
Vesey wasn't a standout player during his one season in Buffalo, and he wasn't really a standout player this season with the Rangers, either. Halak is New York's backup goaltender behind Igor Shesterkin, and I wouldn't really expect him to get many starts going forward into the postseason.
Shoutout to Buffalo native Miles Wood - son of Sabres alum Randy Wood. Patrick Kane is also, of course, a Buffalo native. Can't forget Sabres alum Chris Drury, who is GM of the Rangers, too.
Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild
Dallas: Colin Miller
Minnesota: Marcus Foligno, Marcus Johansson
Marcus Foligno is of course, not just a former Sabre, but also a Buffalo native, so he's a good one to cheer for if you're looking for that angle here. Foligno is in his sixth season with the Wild, but his offensive production suffered as he missed parts of the season due to various injuries. He had just 21 points (7-14) in 65 games but has otherwise been a solid third-liner for the Wild.
Shoutout to Syracuse native Thomas Harley (Stars) for the almost-WNY connection.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Seattle Kraken
Colorado: J.T. Compher, Evan Rodrigues
Seattle: John Hayden, Will Borgen
Plenty of former Sabres to look for in this series. Evan Rodrigues has really blossomed since leaving the Sabres (go figure!) and is on the Avs' top line alongside Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantanen. Rodrigues had 39 points (16-23) in 69 games this season.
Will Borgen is a solid top-four defenseman for the Kraken in their second season in the NHL. He skated in all 82 games, one of five players on the team to do so, and recorded 76 shots while averaging 16:22 ice time per game.
John Hayden skated in seven games for the Kraken, but spent most of the season in the AHL. He was placed on injured reserve on April 8 after undergoing surgery to address a lower-body injury, with an expected recovery time of 12 weeks.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Winnipeg Jets
Vegas: William Carrier, Jack Eichel, Brayden McNabb
Winnipeg: Axel Jonsson-Fjallby
Jack Eichel is in his eighth season in the NHL, and hockey fans will finally get to see him make his playoff debut as the Golden Knights face the Jets. Eichel is understandably somewhat of a polarizing figure for Sabres fans, given the toxicity that plagued his last few seasons in Buffalo and his departure. You probably either want to see him succeed, or want to see him fail miserably - or maybe you just really don't care either way. Think about him raising the Cup. What emotions does that stir in you?
P.S. Yes, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby is technically a former Sabre... even if he only spent seven days with the organization and never actually played a game with the team.
Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings
Edmonton: Evander Kane
Los Angeles: None
Kane missed a sizable portion of the season after suffering a scary wrist injury in November, so he only played 41 games. He's actually never played more than 75 games in a single season. This year, he maxed out at 28 points, including 16 goals.
Special WNY shoutout to Eden native Alex Iafallo, too.