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Sean Leahy

Decadent NHL Playoff Preview: Buffalo (3) vs. Boston (6)

Sean Leahy
Puck Daddy

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The 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us, in all of their delicious glory. We'll be previewing each first-round series this week and providing you with a sugar rush through our poorly executed dessert porn theme. Check out all the previews to find out who takes the ... er, taco.

Ryan Miller's(notes) not here to talk about the past. An Olympic silver medal and a career high 41 wins is nice and all, but accolades in the past two months won't help him beat the Boston Bruins:

"I'm not going to sit here and reflect. Sorry," Miller said this week. "To start reminiscing now, it's going to make for a short postseason. I don't want to do it."

Buffalo makes for an interesting team and a dark horse to come out of the Eastern Conference. They don't have the superstar pizzazz on offense like some of the favorites in the East, but the mix of talent throughout their lineup has been what's brought the team to this point. Oh, and that Ryan Miller guy is pretty good, too.

Facing an old Adams Division foe in the Boston Bruins, it could be an ugly curb stomping about to unfold or, should Tuukka Rask(notes) keep up his stellar play, a drawn-out series that will be decided by which goaltender lets in the last goal.

Buffalo Sabres (3) vs. Boston Bruins (6)

Thursday, April 15 at Buffalo, 7:00 p.m. CBC
Saturday, April 17 at Buffalo, 1:00 p.m. NBC, CBC
Monday, April 19 at Boston, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC
Wednesday, April 21 at Boston, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC
*Friday, April 23 at Buffalo, 7:00 p.m. CBC
*Monday, April 26 at Boston, 7:00 p.m. CBC
*Wednesday, April 28 at Buffalo, 7:00 p.m. CBC

* If Necessary/JIP: Joined in Progress

Forwards

A mostly healthy Patrice Bergeron(notes) had a good comeback year, but one of the biggest contributors was 42-year old Mark Recchi(notes) and his 18 goals and 43 points. Marc Savard's(notes) absence was huge and Boston will need someone to step up to take his place at distributing the puck.

Thomas Vanek(notes) (28), Derek Roy(notes) (26) Jason Pominville(notes) (24), and Jochen Hecht(notes) (21) were Buffalo's top scorers, but the production wasn't all top heavy. Depth players like Mike Grier(notes), Tim Kennedy(notes) and Patrick Kaleta(notes) were some of the players to hit double digits in goals for the Sabres. A balanced scoring effort helped Buffalo take leads and finish with a 30-0-0 record with a lead heading into the third period.

takes the cake. Goals are important and the Bruins had a tough time scoring them.

Defense

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The Bruins were second to last in the NHL in total goals allowed with 191, partly because of their goaltending tandem of Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas(notes) and partly because Claude Julien's system, and the presence of Zdeno Chara(notes).

Buffalo let in 201 goals this season, good for fourth-best in the League. Rookie Tyler Myers(notes) has been the leader of the blueline soaking up a team-high 23 minutes of ice and potting 11 goals and 48 points.

takes the cake because Chara's shutdown presence can change a game.

Goaltending

Sometimes it's better to have no expectations to keep your mind clear. This is what Tuukka Rask might be thinking as he enters the NHL playoffs for the first time. In the mix for the Calder Trophy, Rask took over the starting reigns from Tim Thomas and helped guide the Bruins to the sixth spot in the East. With 22 wins, a 1.97 goals-against average, .931 save-percentage, and five shutouts, Rask is capable of stealing the series.

You'd think after leading Team USA to the gold medal game at the Olympics that Ryan Miller would be a big fatigued down the stretch for the Sabres. The man who almost delivered a "Millercle" didn't look tired one bit going 11-5-1 post-Olympics en route to career highs in wins (41), goals-against average (2.22) and save-percentage (.929).

takes the cake because if Miller senses even a bit of fatigue during the playoffs, it won't be in the first round.

Your slice of Bruins history:

Special Teams

Both teams weren't fantastic with the extra man. Buffalo was 17th at 17.6-percent, while the Bruins finished 23rd with a 16.6-percent success rate. Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek each scored 10 power play goals. Eight of Mark Recchi's 18 goals came with the man advantage.

The penalty kills were two of the team in the NHL. Buffalo was second at 86.4-percent and Boston at 86.4-percent. As we saw on Saturday, the Bruins can be quite dangerous when killing penalties.

takes the cake. They're both so similar in each category that it's hard to expect that special teams will be a deciding factor in the way the series goes.

Trick Candles (The Agitators)

Milan Lucic(notes) doesn't have a problem getting under the skin of opponents and then dropping the gloves to settle things.

Good at what he does and hated by many around the NHL, Patrick Kaleta can be found in the middle of most scrums stirring up trouble.

takes the cake because Lucic can put you through glass.

Noted Baker Giada De Laurentiis of Food Network Says ...

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"What people don't understand about the Sabres is that Ryan Miller is a small morsel of a larger meal, and the totality of the Sabres lineup is the reason why ... why are you staring at me?"

Cupcakes (Goat Factor)

Rask faces a tough test in his first playoff experience in the NHL. Trying to outdo Ryan Miller in a best-of-seven series will not be easy and with Boston being the second lowest scoring team in the League, he'll be relied upon to win close games.

A $7.143 million cap hit along with ending the season by scoring five goals in the last two games will bring high expectations for Thomas Vanek. He put up 10 points in 16 games back during the 2007 playoffs and if Buffalo is avoid a long series with the Bruins, he'll need to be producing.

takes the cake because after a season riddled with injuries and putting their hopes in a rookie netminder, isn't just making the playoffs good enough?

The Baker (Coaching)

Claude Julien's attempt to build off a Jack Adams Award-winning year in 2008-09 was railroaded by Tim Thomas' play, the barrage of injuries and the inability to get the most out of Michael Ryder(notes) - something he's done before.

When nuclear winter comes, all that'll remain in Buffalo is GM Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff. Returning the Sabres to the playoffs for the first time in three years, Ruff can almost do no wrong in Buffalo.

takes the cake. No matter the player turnover, Ruff continually gets the most out of the players he coaches, no matter how big or small the name is.

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Home Icing: (Home Ice Advantage)

Boston has had much more success away from TD Garden (21-13-7 away , 18-17-6 home). Hearing it from the fans during their struggles and then after their heartless effort in the "Matt Cooke Revenge Night" fiasco has made road trips easier to focus for them.

HSBC Arena has seen the Sabres shine going 25-10-6 there, including wins in seven of their last 10 to end the season.

takes the cake because it's been nothing but "home, sweet home" for the Sabres.

The Last Slice (Prediction)

Sabres in 4.

There's a lot of love for the Bruins in an upset going around all because they finished the season 5-1-1. This is still the same Boston team that failed to show up when Matt Cooke's(notes) blood was wanted. The playoffs may be a whole new season, but missing Marc Savard will play a huge rule in Buffalo's dominance. Boston had trouble scoring all season long and Ryan Miller isn't playing like he's ready to start his off-season early.

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