Series breakdown: Flyers (2) vs. Sabres (7)
Regular season series: tied 2-2
Snapshot: It's been awhile since Philadelphia and Buffalo have met this late in the year, but these franchises built some animosity during six playoff series against each other between 1995 and 2006. The second-seeded Flyers come in as the favorite with an overwhelmingly balanced attack -- six 20-goal scorers, tops in the NHL -- and an advantage in playoff experience. But a late-season skid (7-7-6) put a huge question mark on their' championship hopes. The injury and potential absence of defensive stalwart Chris Pronger exacerbates their problems. While the Flyers might have the best offense in the conference, it will be of little use if they are under siege in their own end all night. The hope in Buffalo is that the Sabres' top line will keep them there.
Coming in hot with an East-leading 28-11-6 record since Jan. 1, Buffalo has the conference's second-leading scorer in Thomas Vanek, who put up 48 points in his last 43 games. (Only Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis had more: 49.) Center Tim Connolly has finally eased into the first-line role left vacant after Derek Roy was injured in December, scoring 15 points in his last 16 games. And scoring depth is there with rookie Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford, who have produced 24 goals after the All-Star break. Goalie Ryan Miller, the reigning Vezina Trophy-winner, may be working through an upper-body injury that shelved him for four games earlier this month, but as a last line of defense, even a less-than-100-percent Miller is a better option than most.
Spotlight's on: Sergei Bobrovsky. Or maybe it's Brian Boucher...or heck, maybe even Michael Leighton. You get the picture. Though Bobrovsky was a revelation for most of the season, he was leaky down the stretch, going 4-4-4 since March with a 2.92 GAA. If the rookie's confidence is shaken, it could be disastrous and would force the Flyers to look to Boucher or Leighton. Of course, those two goalies took them to the Stanley Cup Final last spring, but you could argue it was more that the Flyers made it there despite them.
X-Factor for Flyers: Chris Pronger. It's hard to overstate the importance of Philadelphia's big, mean, workhorse blueliner. He's been to the Stanley Cup Final with three teams in the last five seasons, and that was no coincidence. After he went down following hand surgery in March, the Flyers dropped 10 of their last 17 games. On the whole this season, they are only a .500 team when Pronger hasn't played. If he's not available, (he says he expects to play) it leaves a huge hole. If he's anywhere near his usual form, Buffalo's top line will be in for it.
X-Factor for Sabres: Tyler Myers. Last year's Calder Trophy winner looks like he's rebounding from a horrid start to his sophomore season (4 points, -12 in his first 15 games). At 6' 8" and 222 pounds, the 21-year-old defenseman with the long reach can be an effective neutralizer, and that's exactly what the Sabres will need if they hope to stifle the Flyers' deep, skilled offense.
The Pick: Sabres in 7.
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