Well, so much for one half of my Cup pick. As it turned out, maybe the Sabres knew that the Bruins were the wrong match-up. At least that would explain pulling Ryan Miller to try to get back in that final regular season showdown against the Devils. Regardless, it sure didn't workout for either as each bowed out in the first round disappointing each fanbase.
Tonight, it was Buffalo's turn to lose doing so by a 4-3 final against a hungrier Boston club who did all the little things that win in the playoffs. You know. The same kinda stuff the Flyers did to New Jersey. Indeed, Lindy Ruff's club was outgritted by the Bruins, who took the closely fought series in six. It'd be easy to argue that the Sabres could've/should've won, referencing the good start taking Game One and leading 2-zip in Game Two before the roof caved in. Twice in this series against a hated opponent, Buffalo couldn't put it away, blowing two leads after the second for the first time all season. One thing about those stats which we researchers used all the time up at Bristol. They're meaningless at this crucial time of year. It's all about who wants it most. No lead is safe. Especially in the new NHL. You just can't approach it the same way in the playoffs.
Sure. Ruff's club missed Vanek, who returned from a high ankle sprain tonight netting a late goal with Miller pulled to get them within one with still 73 seconds left. It only delayed the inevitable, allowing former Sabre Miro Satan to notch the series winner a few days after crushing Buffalo hearts with his sudden death winner in Game Four. How could this happen? To quote my good pal Brian, "It's Buffalo." Where anything unforeseeable takes place. No goal. Check. No goal II. Check. Injury after injury defying logic when the '05-06 seemed on the verge of winning it all. Of course. Now you can add a once great Sabre who was washed up to the point where the desperate B's took a flier on him. And no. Normally, I don't write this script because it's the one that shall be echoed by our Buffalo contingent. I can see it now.
"Just another chapter in Buffalo sports lore."How can we argue? We didn't even include football. I got nothing. I really liked this Sabre team and felt they could go a long way. Especially with Ryan Miller standing on his head. If he doesn't win the Vezina, something's wrong. No disrespect to Ilya Bryzgalov or Martin Brodeur. But Miller's the best goalie this season. Though I'd also like to see Bryzgalov get recognized with the Hart because no player was more valuable to their team. Especially the Coyotes, who get their crack at history tomorrow in the Desert. As for Miller, even in a special season where he played out of his mind, he gets silver in Vancouver and falls in the first round to shafted rookie Tuukka Rask. To think that the Maple Leafs gave away the Finn for Andrew Raycroft, who now backs up Roberto Luongo in Vancouver. Wow. Being that Bri absolutely loathes Toronto, they're to blame for this. Even when that franchises misses again, they somehow screw Buffalo. Pretty whacked.
Nobody feels worse than Miller, who gave his team every opportunity. Bottom line. The Bruins were peskier winning many board/puck battles as was evidenced at TD Garden. Minus Vanek and Jochen Hecht, the Sabres couldn't finish enough. They got nothing from Derek Roy and Tim Connolly, who may as well have been ghosts. When Nathan Gerbe does more in two games, you got issues. How come the B's got much more out of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, who torched Buffalo for two goals and a helper in the coup de grat. Ah. The power play. What a foreign concept that was for these Sabres, who may as well have had on half Devils and Rangers gear on. Special teams are so vital in playoffs. And like the other Battle participant, Buffalo failed miserably. If you're having trouble scoring and can't win the battle of special teams, you're screwed.
Why did Boston win? Because Claude Julien's club wanted it more. Forget how little they led until the clincher. They kept coming. One can't say the same for Buffalo, who seemed content to rely heavily on Miller to bail them out. That's not a good recipe this time of year. It'd also help if Toni Lydman could play his position. The Bruins got more out of journeyman Johnny Boychuk. And can anyone please tell me who the heck Adam McQuaid is. This ain't Total Recall. What else? Well, the Bruins had no trouble advancing minus Marc Savard. Grinders like Milan Lucic, Vladimir Sobotka and ex-Sabre Daniel Paille (Paille's Revenge???) owned the wall. Even Satan mixed it up. Their best players also were their best, meaning Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman, Bergeron, Krejci and Rask did their thing.
How many Sabres could you say that for outside of Miller? Jason Pominville (2-2-4) was fairly quiet. Tyler Myers struggled, perhaps hitting a rookie wall. The aforementioned Roy/Connolly went into the tank. Oh. Buffalo's grinders showed with Adam Mair, Mike Grier, Patrick Kaleta, Paul Gaustad, Cody McCormick and Tim Kennedy doing their part. But if there's one defining moment, it had to be 42 year-old dinosaur Mark Recchi knocking Matt Ellis off the puck and setting up Bergeron in Game Three. Brutal. Recchi knows what it takes and leads by example. How frustrating was it that deadline pickup Raffi Torres was reduced to a healthy scratch the last two? Only Buffalo.
It wasn't all bad as kids like Gerbe and Tyler Ennis distinguished themselves. Hell. Ennis came close to tying it. The miniscule 5-9, 163 pound center looked just fine putting up a goal and three assists in his first playoffs after tallying nine points in 10 games. With Myers the cornerstone of the blueline, the future looks bright. Problem is there are enough vets to challenge now. Miller's already 30. How many peak years does he got left? Buffalo can't afford to waste them which is why Roy and Connolly were so disappointing.
Maybe we're being too hard. This was their first taste of the playoffs in three years. Perhaps Boston's experience showed. Even though they went down fighting, it still was a tough way to end a good season. Hopefully, the lesson was learned.