Apr 132011

By Jon Smith:

The time hockey fans all crave and desire is finally here — playoff time. The time of the year when every shift, faceoff, penalty kill, defensive clear, and line change becomes critical. The NHL playoffs are easily one of the top sporting events out there, and forget about it when it comes to playoff overtime hockey. The NHL playoffs are also the most likely, out of the four major sports, to have upsets. Just last year we saw the #7 Flyers and #8 Canadiens battle it out in the Eastern Conference Finals.

This year, going with the chalk will be just fine when it comes to fans in Philadelphia and their #2 seeded Flyers. The Flyers/Sabres rivalry dates back to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1975. These two teams met for the first time that year, just the fifth year in the league for the Sabres and the second straight time in the finals for the Flyers, looking for their second consecutive Cup. Since that initial meeting, these teams have met a total of 7 other times in the playoffs. The Flyers dominated the matchup early on, winning series in 1978 (4-2), 1995 (4-1), 1997 (4-1) and 2000 (4-1). However, the Sabres have dominated the past 2 series and have won a total of three overall, 1998 (4-1), 2001 (4-2), and 2006 (4-2). The 2001 and 2006 series both were especially embarrassing due to blowout losses in the deciding game of each matchup.

As one could expect, when teams play each other in a total of 8 playoff matchups, there are bound to be great moments. Remember when:

Line Brawl in 1997:

RJ Umberger almost died:

John Leclair scored through the side of the net:

Dominik Hasek high sticked John Leclair:

John Leclair - Flyers

Every matchup brings a new focus and a new storyline, and this year is no different. Heading into the playoffs this season, the Flyers were certainly not playing their best hockey. Meanwhile, Buffalo is smoking hot since Jan. 1, 2011, when they played 45 games, collecting 27 wins, 60 of 90 possible points. They are 8-1-1 in their last ten games coming into the playoffs.

All that being said, this series is about the Flyers. If they decide they want to turn on “the switch” and go back to playing how they played early in the year, they will be too much for Buffalo to handle. If this current funk continues, and they don’t get Chris Pronger back, they will be easy pickings for the Buffalo upset. The only matchup you can say that Buffalo wins is goaltending with 2010 Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Ryan Miller in net for Buffalo, matching up against playoff rookie Sergei Bobrovsky. Bob has the ability to play good enough to win, but he can also play poorly enough to blow a game. Meanwhile, Miller will be solid to great and could steal a game or two for Buffalo.

The forwards and defense leans heavily towards the Flyers, even with Chris Pronger out for the defense. He is not expected to play game 1, but could see action later in the series if he is needed.

Specialty teams are lean toward Buffalo with a power play that ranked 9th in the league compared to 19th in the league for Philly. Buffalo’s penalty kill ranked 13th in the league as compared to 15th for the Flyers.

In the end, the Flyers themselves will determine this series and answer the questions of the past month. Did they get bored front running for most the year and lose some of their drive? Has the chemistry and attitude shifted so much that a team once thought of as a favorite to win the cup halfway through the year will be bounced out in round 1?

I believe that this is a supremely talented team who after the thrills of last year’s playoff run got bored once they had a big lead as the #1 seed. For that reason I predict the Flyers in 5 games.

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