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Carolina Hurricanes Vs Buffalo Sabres

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

Carolina Hurricanes (Seed 2)

Carolina’s playoff run started with a six-game series against Montreal, where the Hurricanes spotted the Canadiens 2 games before taking over and winning 4 straight. What changed Carolina’s fortunes? Rookie goal tender Cam Ward is the player responsible for transforming this team. Ward replaced tender Martin Gerber, who had given up 6 goals in game one and 3 goals in the first period of the second game. In the next four games, Ward allowed a total of 5 goals. In the second series against New Jersey, he had one bad game, giving up 5 goals in one period. However, Ward bounced back in the next game where he saved 17 of 18 shots, helping to secure the fourth win of the series for his team.

But Carolina does not survive and thrive on goaltending alone. The center of the Hurricanes’ power is the team’s centers. Carolina has four of the most productive centers in the playoffs. In 11 games, Eric Staal has 5 goals and 10 assists, Rod Brind’Amour 6 goals and 5 assists, Matt Cullen 4 goals and 4 assists and Doug Weight 1 goal and 6 assists. Together, these four players have 15 of Carolina’s 32 playoff goals.

Of the four teams still skating, the Hurricanes have the lowest differential between goals for (GF) and goals against (GA)-- +0.45. However, with Ward in goal the team is +1.50, making them the club with the best GF-GA differential. An additional factor—with Ward in goal the Canes have allowed the fewest shots on net of any team in the conference finals.

On the power play, Carolina is 27.8%, the best in the playoffs. Buffalo is 15.4%. On the penalty kill, these teams are just about even with the Sabres at 85.2% and the Canes at 84.5%.

In the Eastern Conference finals, it would help Carolina if they could spread their scoring out more, especially because the Sabres have averaged one more goal per playoff game than the Hurricanes. Opening up the ice may give them more chances. Also, of the four remaining teams, the Carolina club has the worst +/- numbers. This is a team that can speed down the ice with the puck, but they can also get caught flat-footed on the other end.

What does this mean? Cam Ward must continue to be the Cam Ward who has been stellar in net and given his team the confidence to win. If this young, inexperienced tender can do that, Carolina has a good chance of making it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Buffalo Sabres (Seed 4)

The Sabres have a fine defensive contingent, with Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman, who together have earned a total of 10 points and are at +13 each. Also, rookie Ryan Miller has been solid in net. With an 8 and 3 playoff record and a 2.25 goals against average, Miller has revealed some playoff prowess. Still, the Canes, with Ward, possess the best net minding. The Sabres, on the other hand, hold the edge in defensive productivity.

Like their rivals, this is a team that has a cadre of high-flying centers. Led by Chris Drury and his 6 goals and 7 assists, Buffalo can offer three other centers of note—Daniel Briere (4 goals, 9 assists), Derek Roy (3 goals, 7 assists) and Tim Connolly (5 goals, 6 assists).

However, the productive Connolly sustained a concussion in the New Jersey series and may not be on the bench when the series against Carolina begins. Additionally, defenseman Dmitri Kalinin, who injured his ankle when blocking a shot in a game against Ottawa, may be out for the entire Eastern Conference finals.

Perhaps Buffalo is the best example of attrition during a Stanley Cup Series. While beating two of the toughest teams in the league, the Flyers and Senators, they’ve also taken a beating. Connolly’s contributions will be especially hard to replace.

Here’s something in which Sabres’ supporters can find solace. Against Ottawa, a team that many felt was the best in the league, Buffalo played five one-goal games and won four. Miller has held up well under pressure and has gained strength and confidence with each series.

To win, Buffalo has to use its speed and utilize its defensive unit to the fullest. Ward will be difficult to score on and that means Miller and the guys in front of him have to be as stingy as they can possibly be. The Sabres are riding high after neutralizing Peter Forsberg and the Flyers and Dany Heatley and the Senators. They made sure that Philadelphia goalie Robert Esche and Ottawa keeper Ray Emery gave substandard performances in the post-season. If the Sabres speed and goal scoring can shake Ward, especially in the first and second games of the series, Buffalo will be in a great position to take down Carolina. However, getting to Ward will be no easy task.

Second Round Playoff Series Prediction:

Carolina over Buffalo in 6 games

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