Flyers and Sabres set to battle, yet again

For the ninth time in playoff history, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Buffalo Sabres will face each other for the right to advance in the quest of Lord Stanley’s mug.

The fashion in which the Flyers (47-23-12) concluded their regular season was far from impressive, especially for a second-seeded team.

Conversely, the Sabres (43-29-10) posted an impressive record after the All-Star break and appear to be coming into their Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup with all the momentum.

These two playoff rivals tied the season series 2-2. The Flyers won the first two meetings, and the Sabres won the final pair, including a 4-3 overtime victory on April 8 to clinch a playoff spot.

(2) Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia is looking to make a second-straight appearance in the Stanley Cup final after falling in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. Much like last year at this time, one question continues to arise about this offensively-gifted lineup: goaltending.

The tandem of Sergei Bobrovsky (28-13-8) and Brian Boucher (18-10-4) have done an admirable job of protecting the net this season but both lack the elite status most consider imperative to playoff success.

Last year, Michael Leighton proved to be an anomaly to that theory, posting an 8-3 record with a .916 save percentage. To further cloud the situation in the crease, Leighton was called up from the minors this week.

Aside from Philly’s less-than-spectacular ending to the regular season (16 losses in their last 25 games), they were by and large the best team in the Eastern Conference in the 2010-2011 season. Their unsurpassed depth on forward figures to give the Sabres defencemen all they can handle.

Centre Danny Briere has always enjoyed facing his former team. Since joining the Flyers in 2007, the 33-year-old has compiled eight points in six games at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo.

(7) Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres boast the NHL’s fourth-best record since the All-Star break, compiling a 20-8-5 record since Jan. 30. Most would contribute this success to the prototypical play of their goaltender, Ryan Miller.

The All-Star netminder recorded his sixth-straight 30-plus win season in 2010-11 and moved to within 13 wins of surpassing Dominik Hasek for the franchise record in wins. His play seems to have absolutely taken off since steering the U.S. Olympic squad to a silver medal in Vancouver last year.

Opposite to the Flyers, Buffalo’s strength appears to lie in their defence. Tyler Myers leads a blue line that will certainly have their hands full the entire series. Up front, the Sabres number one threat is Thomas Vanek, whose 73 points led the team. That was 21 better than second-place Drew Stafford.

Keys to the Series

The series seems to revolve around Chris Pronger. The towering defenceman has played for three different teams since the lockout (Edmonton, Anaheim, Philadelphia) and guided all three to the final, winning the Cup with the Ducks in 2007. His status is in question after missing the final 16 games of the season with a broken right hand.

Without him, the Flyers are incredibly weak on the back end, and lack a true shutdown presence to halt the Sabres’ attack.

With Pronger, the Flyers are stabilized in every facet of the game: even strength, man advantage, short handed and in all three zones of the rink. His first pass out of the defensive zone is widely regarded as one of the best in the league.

Schedule

Thursday, April 14: Buffalo at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m., TSN

Saturday, April 16: Buffalo at Philadelphia, 5:00 p.m., TSN

Monday April 18: Philadelphia at Buffalo, 7:00 p.m., TSN

Wednesday April 20: Philadelphia at Buffalo, 7:30 p.m., TSN

x-Friday April 22: Buffalo at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m., TSN

x-Sunday April 24: Philadelphia at Buffalo, 3:00 p.m., TSN

x-Tuesday April 26: Buffalo at Philadelphia, TBA, TSN

x – if necessary

Predictions

Greg Houde: Flyers in six

Rory Barrs: Flyers in seven

Ryan Fines: Flyers in five