Thursday night sees the seventh seeded Buffalo face off against the second seed Philadelphia and it should be a great night’s hockey whether you are backing the Sabres form or the Flyers’ pedigree.
Looking at the last 24 games, you’d see the Buffalo Sabres are 16-4-4 and clearly an inform outfit to be reckoned with whereas the Philadelphia Flyers have basically free-wheeled through the last two months of the season, offering an anaemic and listless display which saw them drop five of their last six games, and allow in 21 goals on the way.
Philadelphia are 3-4-3 in their last ten, a bad run that saw them losing the conference lead and only just hanging on to the division title. They hardly seemed like the same Flyers who, despite being seeded seventh last year, made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and pushed Chicago for six games, before bowing out as runners up.
The Sabres, by comparison took eight of their last 10 encounters and notched three shutouts during that 10-game span, allowing two goals or less on three other occasions. In the regular season these sides shared the games with two wins each, true to form Philly won the first pair (6-3 and 5-2) while the Sabres won the last two (5-3 and 4-3, both in overtime). With four high scoring games under their combined belts, expect (and bet on) their games going OVER more often than not.
Form vs. Pedigree
Form is one thing, but the Flyers have a bit of Stanley Cup history. Despite their season end deflation, they will be expected to have a decent run in the NHL playoffs this year. Not only are they a team who have last season’s Stanley Cup near miss fresh in their minds, but Philadelphia have seven players with at least 20 goals while the Sabres have just four. The sportsbooks have been given a tough task ahead of Thursday’s Game 1 of this Eastern Conference quarterfinal so check out the best NHL odds ahead of the puck drop at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center.
If you think that the teams are balanced on a skate edge, keep an eye on Philadelphia’s All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger, who is still recovering from surgery on his right hand. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said Pronger will be a game-time decision for Thursday night. The big Canadian’s time on the ice could well be the difference between the two teams. Sabres forward Thomas Vanek, will be keen to know if he’ll be facing Pronger and will surely be keen to add to his 2 goals and 5 assists in his four games against the Flyers this season.
Who to back
For my money and in keeping with the books the Flyers have an edge, with home advantage and they will look to make amends for their poor season finale. Plus (on a non-physiological level), they quite simply have more players that score more goals than the Sabres do. I’m backing the Flyers to take game one (comfortably) but they’ll be run hard over the quarterfinal series, the sportsbooks have this as the tightest spread of any Eastern Conference series.
Also these sides know each other’s playoff style well as they’ve met in a playoff series eight times so far, and for the record Philadelphia are 5-3 up. If that makes it seem one sided don’t forget their last playoff meeting (in 2006) saw the Sabres win in six games during the first round and Buffalo have won three of the last four Stanley Cup Series, although before that, Philadelphia won four in a row between 1975 and 1997, starting with a win in the ‘75 Final.
Prediction: Philadelphia 5-3 on the night and the series in seven.