Breaking down the seven keys to a Sabres victory in tonight’s crucial game.
Yes, the Buffalo Sabres would be able to squeak out a win tonight with a lucky bounce or two, some odd goals from bad angles. But let’s be serious for a moment…the Flyers aren’t chokers. The organization was the bottom of the barrel in 2007, and they went out and completely retooled their team to be Stanley Cup contenders. This Flyers team overcame all odds last year to beat Boston after being down 3-0, they went to the finals, and this year they’ve come back against the Sabres from down 3-0 before valiantly losing in overtime. I’ve said a few times that I believe the Flyers to have more raw talent on two lines than the Sabres do on their entire team.
When the Sabres were ahead by a goal at the end of Game 5, and the Flyers had a Power Play, they sent out Briere, Hartnell, Giroux, Richards, and Timmonen against Gaustad, Connolly, Butler, and Weber. On paper that should be a guaranteed goal, and yet the Sabres finished strong and went ahead 3 games to 2. Tonight they have the opportunity of their careers; put away the predicted Stanley Cup finalists in the first round, after looking like they wouldn’t make the playoffs in December.
The Sabres were the 7th seed. They’re in Game 7. And of course, they’re playing with the memory of retired #7 Rick Martin. Fate? Destiny? I don’t believe in those things, but I do believe in motivation. If these guys can see the sign, it is that this game is there for the taking, that they have beaten the Flyers three times and twice in hostile territory, and that they can do it again.
- #1 – Ryan Miller’s “A” Game – I appreciate the fact that Ryan Miller is being vocal about Mike Richards, trying to point out a hypocrisy, but this team needs Miller to show up and do one thing: play goal. Play goal like it’s the last game of the season, because if he doesn’t play that way it will be. No ridiculous rebounds the likes of which riddled the end of Game 6. No losing his composure if a couple quick ones get by him. No taking a penalty because a Flyer is in his crease. Ryan Miller is one of the best goaltenders in this league, and tonight he’s got to zero in and play the best game of his career.
- #2 – Drew Stafford and Brad Boyes Need To Show Up- I’ve given Brad Boyes the benefit of the doubt for switching to center, but tonight he’s got to lay it all out on the line. The management made it clear that he isn’t a rental, he isn’t a repeat of Zubrus or Moore or Bernier that they don’t intend to keep. He’s a big money player that they have through next year, and he needs to play like he is a full-fledged Buffalo Sabre. Drew Stafford, meanwhile, has to validate what I consider to be a fluke of a season. He’s coming up on free agency and I don’t think he should be re-signed, I don’t think he should get paid more than $2.5 million, and I don’t think he is a leader or a consistent scorer. I yearn for Stafford to prove me wrong.
- #3 – Tyler Myers – Where Myers goes, the Sabres go. That has been the case the last two years. When the kid is off his game, this team is really hurting because of it. Sure there are six defenders, and sure Myers isn’t playing the most minutes (Gragnani has been barely outdoing him in that area), but last year’s Calder Trophy winner can be a game changer. He doesn’t need to do anything spectacular, but he cannot be a question mark. When Myers has the puck tonight, he needs to be calm with it, know where he’s going with it, and execute.
- #4 – Get Pucks To The Net – I understand how the Power Play works. I understand that this team is looking for a shooting lane, that they’re trying to open up the defense, and that they can’t just give the puck away. That being said, look at the goals the Philadelphia goaltenders have let in. Bank shots, bad angles, wristers from the blue line, and pucks that have barely deflected off defenders’ sticks. Leighton, Bobrovsky, and Boucher each give up big rebounds, get shaken, and each have gotten pulled. The Sabres have one statistical advantage over the Flyers, and that is goaltending. They need to take advantage of it and try outshooting the Flyers.
- #5 – Discipline – This team has shown Philly that they’re not soft. The Sabres gained a reputation during the “Slug” era for being a team that could be pushed around and beaten up. Since last year this team has been working on that image, and now they are actually being seen as goons. Gaustad has reprised his gritty leadership role and his value as a fighter. Grier looks like a SCUD missile. Mike Weber hits everything that moves. Now they need to work on things like Gerbe’s hacks after the whistle, Butler’s holding of a jersey, and the ever-maddening too many men on the ice.
- #6 – Snuff The Momentum Change – As I said two days ago, Peter Laviolette is a witch. If the Sabres score three quick goals, Laviolette is confident changing the goalie, and he knows the Flyers will respond with a better effort. So far the Sabres haven’t shown that they can weather the storm well, and the Flyers have come back and at least tied it every time. If that happens this game, it’s do or die…put the puck in the net as fast as possible. Laviolette does not have confidence in any of his goalies, and switching them out is a chess move. It’s calling out his offense. It certainly isn’t putting in a goalie that he thinks is any better. The Sabres need to see through that smoke screen, need to immediately make the new goalie uncomfortable, and shake the Flyers confidence to its core. The fact is none of their goaltenders are good enough to win the Stanley Cup, no matter when they start playing in a game.
- #7 – Desperation – This is the first time this year’s team has faced elimination. Last year, down 3 games to none, they showed up to stave off elimination against the Bruins. A few guys remember facing elimination against Ottawa in 2007 or Carolina in 2006, and they remember winning the initial game before being eliminated in the next one. To reiterate: the post-lockout Buffalo Sabres have not lost their first elimination game. They’ve responded well to the pressure, and even though they haven’t won those series they have been able to play a composed, desperate game to get through the night. Well, tonight they need to do the same. Tonight is the first time they’re facing elimination from the playoffs this year, and they need to dig deep, block those shots, hustle to the puck, stop clutching and grabbing, and dive to poke that puck over the blue line. They need to look like a 7th seed team in their 7th game with absolutely nothing to lose and a division winner to knock out.
Tags: Boston Bruins Buffalo Buffalo Sabres Carolina Hurricanes Craig Rivet Darcy Regier Derek Roy Drew Stafford Eastern Conference Fansided Free Agency Game 7 Hockey Jason Pominville Lindy Ruff NHL Northeast Division Ottawa Senators Patrick Kaleta Patrick Lalime Philadelphia Flyers Portland Pirates Ryan Miller Sabres Stanley Cup Stanley Cup Playoffs Terry Pegula Thomas Vanek Tim Connolly Tyler Ennis Tyler Myers