Friday, May 19, 2006

 

Eastern Conference: Carolina vs. Buffalo

This seems to be the playoffs for 'destiny' teams, and we have two good ones in the East.

I remember my trip to Niagara Falls a few years back. You could see Buffalo on the other side of the river, and it looked like a desolate, dirty place. Buffalo is not the place one normally aspires to live, but rather a place that you just 'end up' when you can't find a good job in the place you really want to live. (I actually know somebody in that exact same situation, so don't get your panties in a knot Buffalonians)

With gut-punches such as the NO GOAL and those three straight "WIDE RIGHT" Super Bowl defeats in the past, Buffalo seems 'due' for something right to happen to them. This year's Sabres could very much be the team that finally brings some joy to that depressing border town, after a long rebuilding program, criminal ownership, and the old 'small market' troubles that held them back.

Buffalo seems to have hit the jackpot so far in these playoffs, facing a Flyers team in which 2/3 of them needed major surgery, and facing an Ottawa team of scarecrows who should be off to see the Wizard (but not Ray Whitney). The thin swords deserve full credit for their victories, but I get the feeling that they really haven't been tested as much as they should have been.

Carolina has been one the league's top teams all season long, yet I doubted them versus the Devils. The injury woes turned out to be non-existant, Eric Staal is teh bombz0rs, the Devils offence lacked as much depth as The Da Vinci Code movie, and Cam Ward continued his fine play. The Canes are for real, I now realize, after years of being the league's doormat.

The tilt in this series may be the injury factor, as the Sabres will be without Dmitri Kalinin and Tim Connolly while the Canes will be almost perfectly healthy apart from Cory Stillman's shoulder.

Goaltending:
Cam Ward: 10GP 8-2 1.77GAA 93.0SV%
Ryan Miller: 11GP 8-3 2.25GAA 92.1SV%

The numbers favour Ward, but the performances have been just about equal, considering Miller had two brainfart games versus the Flyers and has kicked ass otherwise. When all else fails, go for experience over youth, so I'll give a slight edge to Buffalo. Should either of these goalies fail, both backups (Gerber and Biron) could step in and provide good goaltending.

Defence: With the loss of Kalinin, the Sabres are forced to play Rory Fitzpatrick, who is every bit the AHL defenseman you know him as. The Sabres big advantage will be their skill and offence from the back end, with guys like Henrik Tallinder and Brian Campbell. The Canes defensemen have only 3 goals total in these playoffs, and Hedican leads their d-core with a whopping 5 assists in 11 games. Carolina's unit is much bigger and stronger overall, and definitely built just right for the playoffs. Both teams block shots extremely well, it should be noted, and put their bodies on the line to win games and lay out RJ Umberger. I'll give a very slight edge to Carolina since they much deeper in quality defensemen and have the size and grit needed for playoff success.

Forwards: Like the defence corps, the two teams have different looking forward groups. Compare the Sabres with a group that leans towards smaller, slicker, skillful forwards compared to Carolina's sizable, experienced, and defensively-adept group, and the constast of styles between both teams becomes evident.

Buffalo has 4 lines that can score goals on you, giving them better 'long' depth up front and making it hard for any opposition to shut them down completely. The Canes 4th line couldn't score in an NBA All-Star game. The Sabres also have 5 shorthanded goals in these playoffs, so they never stop being a offensively dangerous foe.

Carolina doesn't have quite the offensive depth that the Sabres have, but they are bigger and stronger up front overall and much better defensively. Guys like Brind'Amour, Adams, Vasicek, and Cullen can spread out and shut down the Sabres offence leaving the offensive stars like Doug Weight, Justin Williams, Ray Whitney, and Eric Staal to worry about the offence. (of course, Brind'Amour is a machine and does everything well).

My instincts suck, but they tell me that Carolina is better built for the playoffs, with great attention to defensive play and lots of grit and size all around. The Canes have the heart the Senators don't and the size and physical play that the Flyers were unable to bring, giving Buffalo their first true test of these playoffs.

I'll go with the Canes in 6.

Comments:
Since it's impossible to see Buffalo from Niagara Falls, I'm going to assume you were in Niagara Falls, ON and were looking at Niagara Falls, NY. And Niagara Falls is a half-hour north of Buffalo. So I am guessing you never saw Buffalo.

Unless you really did go into Buffalo, which would make my point moot.
 
Report I read today said LaRose won a shootout competition at Hurricanes practice this week. Yeah right...and monkey's might fly out of my butt!
 
Call me naive, but I really think that "Sharpie" is due to hit the back of the net a few times. He was flat out robbed by Brodeur on several occasions. I'll look for two goals and three assists in a seven game series.
 
Hey Jes, where's the Oilers and Anaheim prediction? Hehe.
 
You may want to revise that prediction. Buffalo has more intangibles.
 
...and the best early and late scoring in the League.
 
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