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11 April 2007

Sabres Playoff Preview

Sabres (1) v. New York Islanders (8)

Game 1: 8:00 PM Thursday April 12, 2007 at HSBC arena.

Season Series: Sabres 3-1


Sabres come into the playoffs with all players healthy except C Paul Gaustad (ankle). The Sabres finished first overall in the NHL and were the only team to top 300 goals scored in the regular season. The Islanders made a dramatic late season charge to edge out Montreal and Toronto for the final playoff spot in the East.

Sabres are expected to start game one with the following lines:
Pominville Briere Hecht
Kotalik Drury Zubris
Afinigenov Roy Vanek
Stafford Connolly Mair

Bench: Paile, Peters

The Sabres appear to be able to roll four powerful offensive lines. While light on the physical side the team anticipates wearing down other teams with their skating ability and high pressure attack. This ability to roll the lines makes it very difficult for teams to play match ups with Buffalo and to double shift over long stretches of time.

Islanders: The Islanders boast dangerous firepower in Ryan Smyth, Jason Blake, Mike Sillinger, Miro Satan and Alexi Yashin. This is an extremely talented group of veterans. Unfortunately, Yashin and Satan have reputations as underachievers then neither has been able to shake off. Smith creates a significant match up problem as the Sabres will be hard pressed to physically match up with the big winger. The Isles appear to be ill-suited to get into a run and gun series with Sabres. After these top two lines the Islanders could have a big disadvantage against the exceptionally talented 3rd and 4th lines of Buffalo. The kids in NY like Asham and Tambellini have to step up big in order for the Islanders to compete.

Buffalo is expected to start with the following pairings on defense:
Tallinder Lydman
Campbell Spacek
Numminen Kalinin

Bench: Paetsch

The Sabres have a very mobile defense that is adept at moving the puck and that can skate with any team. Again they are not an overly physical bunch and have had some trouble with bigger power forwards such as Ryan Smyth.

Islanders: The Isles have upgraded this unit significantly over the course of the year. Late season acquisition Marc-Andre Bergeron has been very good since coming in a trade with Edmonton. May have trouble matching up with Buffalo's speed over the course of the series. Brendan Witt could be rendered ineffective if the Islanders let the Sabres dictate style and tempo.

Sabres: Ryan Miller, backup Ty Conklin
Islanders: Wade Dubielewicz, backup Mike Dunham (IR Rick Dipietro)

Sabres would appear to have a large advantage in the area of goaltending, but Dubielewicz was spectacular in the last week for the Islanders. If he can carry that hot play into the playoffs the Islanders chances for success increase substantially. The status of Rick Dipietro (concussion) is unclear, but it appears unlikely he will return until later in this series.

Sabres: Lindy Ruff
Isles: Ted Nolan

Sure to be the storyline of this series will be the first playoff meeting between former Sabres coach Nolan and his replacement Ruff. Both are fine coaches and this should be an interesting subplot to the series.

Outlook: I expect a spirited effort form the Islanders but I don't think they have enough, especially on the back end, to compete with the Sabres. I believe that similar to Philly last year the lack of speed and top end goaltending will be the Isles Achilles heel. They may score some goals and beat the Sabres up a bit, but I expect a Sabres' victory in 5 games.

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