The Isles improbably find themselves in the playoffs tonight vs. the Sabres in Buffalo. The Isles are big underdogs and while I don't expect them to win the series, I think the team's experience during the last four games of the season and the rough period in March that preceded it has toughened this team up. I think they will play with confidence and a loose "we're just happy to be here and have nothing to lose" attitude. The Sabres, on the other hand, didn't make it to the finals last year mainly because of injuries, but had a fantastic season this year and is the favorite by many to win the Cup.
So clearly, the pressure will be on the Sabres. If the Islanders were to steal game one or two in Buffalo, I think it will be a long, hard fought series. To do so, the Isles will need to shutdown the center corridor that the swift Buffalo skaters use as a runway to gain speed. If they cross the blue line flying on a consistent basis, the Isles are in big trouble. Witt and Hill will be no match for the speed of Buffalo's lines. The Isles need to play, gasp, Devils hockey, and line up across the red line forcing the Sabres to dump and chase. Next, the Isles need to keep the puck on the boards and win the little battles in the corners. On offense, they need a solid fore check with lots of cycling and guys clogging the crease.
Finally, the Isles need to play a tough, physical series as we all know that toughness is the way to get to Buffalo. The Sabres do not react well to taking a physical beating. However, the Isles have to be smart about it. As the team with the highest amount of shorthanded vs even minutes in the league this year, it seems as if the refs are programmed to call the mildest infraction on the Isles. It will be a fine line between playing tough and going to the box. And the Isles cannot panic when Buffalo uses its speed. No hooking and grabbing - just play positionally and rely on teammates to pick each other up.
Obviously, the goaltending match up for game 1 favors the Sabres. And I think Dubie will be exposed to an offense that is capable of blowing any goalie away. That said, Dubie played two periods against the Sabres in a blow out loss two weeks ago in relief of Dunham, and played fairly well.
Well,I'm just giddy about the Isles making the playoffs and any wins after this is gravy. We are playing the Sabres after all.