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Flyers vs. Sabres, series preview

The two/seven matchup in the Eastern Conference will get rolling tonight when the Buffalo Sabres will face off against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelhpia. There's plenty of interesting story lines, history and intriguing matchups in this series. I already picked the Sabres to win in 6 games, but Philadelphia is still the favorite despite ending the year on a somewhat cold-stretch. Here's 6 questions I'm waiting to have answered in this series:

1. Will regular season trends continue? The Sabres spent much of the first half of the year in 10th or 11th place in the East and had to surge to make into the playoffs, especially when the race between the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes and Sabres heated up in the final weeks. The Sabres finished the year 8-1-1 in their last 10, including a win over Philadelphia at home.

The Flyers have suffered the opposite trend: over their last ten games they were a 3-4-3, which is the main reason they lost the top seed in the East to Washington in the last week. Though it has a really talented team, the Flyers suffered from goalie issues, the absence of Chris Pronger and other issues. They will have to come into form to deal with a formidable Sabres squad.

The Flyers are a talented offensive team, they finished the year with the most goals scored in the Eastern Conference. Expect Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere and Mike Richards to make plenty of plays with the puck. However, the Flyers did not have a particularly good power play. If he returns, Chris Pronger is a tough physical player, who makes a lot of hits but also has the tendency to take penalties. Kris Versteeg was a quality acquisition at the trade deadline for the Flyers.

The Sabres have a lot of young and talented players. Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, and Tyler Ennis can all handle the puck very well and score goals. Their power play is near the top of the league and can seem unstoppable at times. They did give up 13 short handed goals in the regular season though, a possible weakness there. Also, look for defensemen Jordan Leopold and Tyler Myers to get involved on offense. Patrick Kaleta and Cody McCormick are energetic guy who can get involved physically.

2. How will the goalies play? Goaltending is a major concern for Philadelphia. Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky will start and Philadelphia's success depends upon how he plays in his first NHL playoffs, they also have Brian Boucher on the bench. Ryan Miller had an up-and-down year after winning the Vezina trophy last year. He missed some time toward the end of the year with an injury and is supposed to be back in full health now. If he is on, the Sabres will be competitive in any game, but they need Miller to perform. Backup rookie Jhonas Enroth played really well in Miller's place, so there is a chance he may see some play time, if Miller falters or is hurting.

3. Will Chris Pronger return? Pronger is one of the best and also one of the grittiest defensemen in the NHL. With him back in the lineup, Philadelphia becomes a much better team and he may provide a boost in terms of leadership. However he has been out with a broken hand and there has been no word on if he will play in game one, or when he will return.

4. How will Danny Briere play against his former team? This will be the first playoff series between the Sabres and their former co-captain Danny Briere. Briere led the team to back-to-back Eastern Conference Championship appearences along with also departed captain Chris Drury in 2006 and 2007. Briere has continued to be one of the league's top centers, and he most likely get booed when the teams play in Buffalo. Another former Sabre, Miroslav Satan, was clutch for Boston in last year's playoff series against Buffalo, so keep an eye on how Briere performs.

5. Who will play center for the Sabres? While the Flyers have a fairly cemented set of lines, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff has to make some decisions about what lines the Sabres will use. The main problem is that top centers Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy are both injured. For the last week of the season Ruff dealt with Hecht's absence by using call-up Mark Mancari as the center on the second line, while sticking with his hot first line of Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly and Thomas Vanek. However, John Vogl of the Buffalo News is reporting that due to Mike Grier's return from injury, Mancari will be a scratch and trade-deadline pickup Brad Boyes will play center. Boyes has not played much center since coming to Buffalo so it will be intersting to see how he does.

6. Will home-ice be a deciding factor? Philadelphia has home-ice for the series and Philadelphia fans, in any sport, have a reputation for being brutal and loud. When the Sabres are in the playoffs things get crazy in Buffalo too, so expect there to be a great playoff atmosphere in both buildings. There is a good amount of history between these teams also. Most notably, they met in the 1975 Stanley Cup finals, which the Flyers won. Both teams had more wins on the road than at home, so it will be interesting to see how that affects the games.   


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