With the Boston Bruins set to begin their first-round playoff series against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday (7 p.m.) in Buffalo, we asked our Bruins reporters, Joe McDonald and Matt Kalman, five questions about the matchup.
Which goaltender is more likely to carry his team, Tuukka Rask or Ryan Miller?
Joe McDonald: This series will feature low-scoring games because of both goaltenders. No doubt Miller is one of the best in the league and has the numbers to prove it. He also has experience. Rask played a total of 45 games during his rookie season and started six of the last seven games (4-1-1). Even though Miller is a seasoned veteran, Rask is young enough and confident enough to help Boston advance past the first round.
Matt Kalman: Both goaltenders figure to be fantastic in this series, but if I had to pick the one "more likely" to carry his team I'd have to go with Miller. There's the slight chance that Rask will be overwhelmed by the playoffs and he might even underestimate how much different the postseason is compared to the regular season in the NHL. Miller has more experience and has been there before, so there are fewer questions about his ability to handle the situation.
On the offensive end, which Bruin needs to step up his game most for Boston to pull an upset?
McDonald: Milan Lucic will need to have a big series. He needs to be an offensive threat and a physical presence. If he plays on the line with Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi, which is where he's been, Lucic has to get the puck and his body to the net and create havoc for Miller. If Lucic can be successful and open up some space, that will give Bergeron scoring opportunities too.
Kalman: If Marco Sturm can find his game, and he's shown a knack for scoring big goals, the Bruins would have a much better shot at taking down Buffalo. Sturm is as streaky as they come, and the best news for the Bruins is that he finished the regular season in his worst drought of the campaign. If he can get hot in the playoffs, the goals might come in bunches and that would give the Bruins a legit No. 1 line with Sturm joining David Krejci and Miroslav Satan. That would take some of the offensive heat off of Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi, who are going to be counted on as a shutdown line in addition to a group of scorers.
What's the key matchup in the series?
McDonald: There's not one specific matchup here, but Boston's defensive corps will need to completely shut down a strong Buffalo attack. Because of a string of injuries on the Bruins' back end, captain Zdeno Chara will be logging a ton of ice time. He will be counted on to clear out all the traffic that will be parked in front of Rask.
Kalman: The key matchup is the Bruins' forecheck against the Buffalo attack. The Bruins don't win when they don't forecheck with aggression and abandon. If they don't put bodies to Tyler Myers, Henrik Tallinder, et al., the Sabres will get far too many opportunities for Rask to have a chance. The Bergeron line will have to set the tone, and Boston's fourth line in particular will have to make sure the Sabres aren't able to break out and get down ice with the puck in odd-man situations.
Besides Miller, which Sabre should Bruins fans be aware of as a possible difference-maker for Buffalo?
McDonald: The Bruins need to shut down Tyler Myers. The Sabres defenseman recorded a total of five points in six games against Boston this season and he's not afraid to join the rush. At 6-foot-8, he's got a big shot and likes to unleash it from the high slot with traffic in front of the opponent's goaltender. The Bruins need to keep the puck away from Myers in all areas of the ice.
Kalman: Paul Gaustad doesn't get a lot of hype, but he's a giant presence in front of the opposition's net at even strength and on the power play. He's the type of player that can give the Bruins and their undersized (except Zdeno Chara) defensemen fits. He's also proficient at the faceoff dots and will undoubtedly do battle with Bergeron there all series.
What is your prediction for the series?
McDonald: Like most, I've always been a fan of the so-called underdog and even though I think the Bruins have a chance to pull off an upset, realistically the Sabres will expose Boston's weaknesses and win the series in seven games.
Kalman: Had the Bruins been paired against any of the other top teams in the East, I wouldn't have given them a shot to even get past a fifth game. But Boston matches up well with Buffalo, and even if they won't admit it, the Bruins are relishing being an underdog. At the risk of sounding like a homer, I'll take Boston in 7. And I think the Bruins will be the only lower seed in the East to advance.
Joe McDonald and Matt Kalman cover the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.