The Flyers and Sabres meet after splitting the season series, Philly winning the points battle five to four. But the Flyers limped to the finish line, going 7-14 (hey, if shootout wins count as wins, then shootout losses will count as losses here) down the stretch. Buffalo, meanwhile, comes to the postseason playing some of its best hockey, winning eight of the final 10 games in spite of Ryan Miller sitting for some of that stretch.
Here's the breakdown.
Forwards: The Flyers are very talented and very deep up front. Led by Claude Giroux's 76 points and Jeff Carter's 36 goals, there's hardly a time there isn't a threat on the ice for Philly to put the biscuit in the basket. If there's a weakness it might be up the middle with the centermen after Mike Richards. No Flyer ranked inside the top 50 this year in faceoff percentage, an important stat that is often forgotten. For Buffalo, Thomas Vanek enters the playoffs scorching, earning one of the NHL's three Stars for the final week. Top to bottom, the Sabres don't have the firepower that Philly does, but that could be mitigated by the fact they're playing better entering this series.
Defensemen: Offensively speaking, there's decent enough production for both teams from the blue line. However, it has to be concerning that Buffalo is waiting on injury news for Jordan Leopold and Andrej Sekera, two of their three most relied-upon defensemen. Philadelphia is, of course, waiting on their own bit of injury news as Chris Pronger was recently labeled as day to day. His return would give a nice boost to the Flyers on the back end, who have a nice pairing of Matt Carle and Andrej Meszaros, both boasting a plus-30 rating on the year. Of the two groups, the Flyers are a bit more physical and do a better getting in the shooting lanes.
Edge: Slightly to the Flyers
Goalies: The Flyers are somewhat of an amazing animal in net. They made the Stanley Cup Final last season despite not having what most would consider a reliable goalie. But the collective effort was strong enough. They had hoped to have that solved this season with rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was outstanding early. But he struggled a bit to make it to the end, being pulled in his final start after surrendering three goals on 10 shots against the Islanders. Brian Boucher will be ready at the call if Bobrovsky can't snap out of his funk. You know Buffalo's goalie. The 2009-10 Vezina winner did have a dip in his stats following that oustanding season, but he is still one of the best in the game. He didn't play much down the stretch, so it gave backup Jhnoas Enroth a chance to show what he can do. After he posted a 9-2-2 record this year, the Sabres have to feel pretty comfortable with their secondary option.
Special teams: Not much stands out for either team, but Buffalo was a tad better in both power play and penalty kill. Led by Drew Stafford and Vanek (11 power-play goals each), the Sabres were 13th in the league when on the advantage. With the talent it has up front, you might expect a little more from Philly, so that's why it would love to get Pronger back. A power-play quarterback, more than half of his career goals have come on the man-advantage. Something to keep in mind -- and something Philly fans will remind you of -- the Flyers are usually called for a lot of penalties, checking at 24th in the NHL this year with 13.6 minutes per game.
-- Brian StubitsPhoto: Getty Images