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It's Spring — Playoffs Are In The Air

March 25, 2010 - Matt Spielman

For the first time since their President's Trophy-winning season of 2006-07, the Sabres look to be a lock to make the playoffs this year.

Assuming it can hold a seven-point lead on second-place Ottawa in the Northeast Division, Buffalo will enter the postseason as at least the No. 3 seed. Making up a point on whichever team wins the Atlantic Division isn't too far-fetched of an idea, which would put the Sabres in the second spot. Nobody is going to catch Washington in the Eastern Conference, but a No. 2 or No. 3 seed actually may be ideal at this point.

The Capitals have been world-beaters this year and should breeze through the opening around no matter who they match up with. Right now it looks like Philadelphia or Boston will draw the unenviable task of taking on Washington. I like the No. 2 seed for a couple of reasons. First, assuming the top four seeds advance to the second round, Buffalo would have home-ice advantage over No. 3 and the Sabres are 22-9-6 at HSBC Arena this year, which is the second-best home record in the conference behind the Capitals. Secondly, I believe the Penguins have the best chance of beating Washington in the conference. If Pittsburgh falls to the No. 4 seed, it would match up with the Capitals in the second round. The Penguins are a much better opponent for Buffalo in a possible Eastern Conference final than Washington.

There seems to be a different feeling around the Sabres fan base this spring as they ramp up for a Stanley Cup playoff run. A lot of fans have been calling radio talk shows with negative comments about this group compared to the previous two playoff teams the Sabres have put on the ice. Granted, the team took a hit when it lost Daniel Briere and Chris Drury off of those teams, but a lot of the other players on those teams are still here and in the primes of their careers. Ryan Miller is a much better goalie now than he was then and his numbers back that up. Tyler Myers is the best defenseman to come through Buffalo in years. Buffalo does need its top-six forwards to play like top-six forwards come playoff time, but so does every team.

The fact is Lindy Ruff's system is not ideal for creative offensive-minded players. It is a very defensive-minded "structured" system that requires everybody on the ice to think stopping goals, not scoring goals. The coach actually let the team go away from this for the first couple of years out of the lockout because other teams were not ready for it. Now that other teams have caught up, it is best for Ruff to go back to what he knows best. That's not to say this team cannot win several series playing this system. What has to happen though, is the team has to take better advantage of its power plays than it has this year.

It has been said the Sabres have problems throughout the year because players aren't buying into Ruff's system. I think just the opposite may be happening — players do buy into his system which limits their gifted scoring abilities while at the same time taking away other teams' scoring chances.

The coming playoff games may not be as exciting as the 2005-06 and 2006-07 campaigns, but the results may be even better.


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Ryan Miller has to be the best goaltender in the world come playoff time. AP photo