Four of the six games the Sabres and Bruins played this regular season were decided by one goal, and with stellar goaltending and tight defense on both sides, their first-round playoff matchup is likely to be a tightly contested series.
That’s why Bruins head coach Claude Julien and general manager Peter Chiarelli are both expecting a very competitive series against a Buffalo team that mirrors their own squad in many ways.
“From the matchup perspective, I think you’re going to see some tight defense, in addition to the fact that you’ve got two very good goalies,” Chiarelli told the media Monday. “They’ll be hard games. They compete hard.”
The Bruins have fared well against the Sabres, going 4-2-0 against them this season. But as Julien pointed out, by no means should the sixth-seeded Bruins be considered the favorites against the No. 3 seed Sabres.
“[Just because] we’ve had success against them this year doesn’t mean we’re the favorites,” Julien said. “I’m going to tell you right now that I think it’s going to be a good series.”
While defense and goaltending should dictate the outcome of this series, there is always the threat from both teams that some of their key forwards who have struggled this season — like Marco Sturm or Michael Ryder for the Bruins or Thomas Vanek for the Sabres — find their groove and become an X factor. The Bruins know that Vanek, who scored five goals in the last two games of the regular season, can explode and make a huge difference. To prevent that, the Bruins will have to rely on their forecheck and play within their system.
“They’ve got a goal-scorer in Vanek who seems to have found his mark in the last little bit,” Chiarelli said. “They’ve got some pretty skilled forwards up front. If we can forecheck the way that we’re capable of doing, I think we’ll be in for a good series.”
His coach concurred and knows that his team can’t just depend on Tuukka Rask to bail them out all the time. If Vanek and the Sabres forwards start buzzing, things could get ugly in a hurry.
“We’ve played them well enough this year that we’ve just got to make sure we make some adjustments here and there, and they will too,” Julien said. “But like I said, if we don’t respect their offense and [their] guys going up the ice, we can get ourselves in trouble.”