Sunday, May 06, 2007
So it appears the Sens have legitimately acquired an underdog tag for the first time in the 2007 playoffs, almost ten years removed from the last time they wore the label. It's probably a good thing that the BoO archives only go back to the start of last season, the chronicle of ridiculously high expectations and their maddening lack of fulfillment would be almost epic in nature. It needs to be pointed out that of all the iterations of this team that have been pegged to win it all since, say 1999, this would be the last one I would have picked to even make it into the playoffs, let alone the conference finals. It's amazing the way this team has built up fan confidence in major strides, rather than incremental improvements. Hands up anyone, who, after watching that first period of Saturday night's game still figured the Sens had a chance to knock out the Devils right then and there? If you're like me, you almost became comfortable with the idea of dropping Game 5 knowing that the team could be patient enough to wait for home ice before confidently closing out round two. However, they managed to stick it out and scored a few ugly goals (remember how this was a near impossible task in previous series?) to win their fourth one-goal playoff game of 2007 (remember how this was almost guaranteed to be their playoff achilles heel?) and thereby preventing a hall of fame goalie from getting into any kind of comfort zone whatsoever (remember how the likes of Ed Belfour morphed into Terry Sawchuk when faced with feeble Senators offensive efforts?).
The next giant leap then, is the Mighty Slugs of Buffalo. Let's have a look at some quick numbers. Miller and Emery are 6th and 7th, with GAAs of 1.88 and 2.04, respectively after Saturday's game. Allowing four goals against the Strangers today should help to fluff Miller's average up a bit, making for a clean fight right off the bat. Save percentage-wise, Miller has the upper hand, facing far more shots than Emery over 10 games (Miller has faced about 40 more shots and allowed the same amount goals). Offensively, the Sens top line is rolling through the playoffs, occupying three of the top five point slots (the other two, Gomez and Nylander, have been eliminated as of Sunday evening). Forget about line matching, as the possible permutation and combinations for the Sabres could be the subject of a Combinatorics dissertation. It's much easier to describe them as having four second lines. Having said that, the Senators top line accounts for half of their goals and now would probably be a good time to see some production from any of, or all of, Peter Schaefer, Mike Comrie and Mike Fisher (remember when Murray had to shake up the lines every five minutes?). With regards to special teams, the Sens and Sabres are 2nd and 3rd of the final five on the PK. With the top line going, you know OTT's power play must be doing fine and it's actually tops in the post season, including an astonishing 33% on the road.
If I had to pick any possible factor to mitigate against the Sabres, it would be what (I think) John Tortorella described as the "supposed to" factor. The Sabres are supposed to represent the East, they're supposed to have blazing speed and top-to-bottom scoring, they're supposed to win a cup before all these individual talents go spinning off into free agency. What happens if the supposed favorite can't hold off a hungry and determined fourth seed?
Finally, can you picture that pose on the cover of NHL2K8?
Posted by Jay Jardine at 8:42 p.m.