By John D'Onofrio
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
It doesn’t matter how far you think the Buffalo Sabres are headed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which begin this week, local hockey fans are in complete agreement when it comes to what it means to be back in the postseason.
“First and foremost, it’s great to be back in the playoffs,” exclaimed Starpoint boys varsity tennis coach and local sports fan Rob Olear.
“I think if the Sabres can rally behind (Team USA goalie Ryan) Miller, he might be able to ride his success from the Olympics and carry the team deep into the playoffs.”
The Sabres, after finishing third in the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference behind the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils, will host the No. 6-seeded team, the Boston Bruins, in an NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
The Sabres/Bruins series opens at 7 p.m. Thursday at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. Game Two of the series is also in Buffalo at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The series heads to Boston next week for games 3 and 4 (see Sabres/Bruins playoff schedule).
There’s good news in Buffalo, as center Tim Connolly skated over the weekend and could return to practice today.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Monday that he’s “optimistic about him practicing and possibly playing Thursday. Connolly is the Sabres’ second-leading scorer with 65 points, despite missing the last nine games because of a foot injury.
Ruff also didn’t rule out forward Jochen Hecht from practicing, though he’s not been skating since missing the last three games with an upper-body injury. Right wing Drew Stafford remains questionable after suffering a slight concussion Saturday against Ottawa.
Former Lockport High School varsity hockey head coach Bill “Judge” Watson, now an assistant coach with the varsity ice Lions and a former player, said the Sabres have been fortunate getting their scoring from a lot of different sources.
Watson said he’s looking to the team’s strong defense to hold the line against the equally-tough Bruins.
“The series with Boston should be a low-scoring one because both teams are coming into the playoffs with hot goaltenders. It’s going to come down to which team can find the net the most.”
Season ticket holders are also optimistic, including avid Lockport golfer Mike Florio.
“I’m like everyone else right now — just happy to be back in the playoffs. It’s been too long for our community that is so supportive of hockey and the Sabres to finally be back,” Florio said.
“The key for us in beating Boston is Ryan Miller. Okay, Miller didn’t win the Olympic gold medal for the U.S., but now he has a shot to help Buffalo win the Stanley Cup. I think we sandbagged a little there at the end of the season, but we we’ll beat the Bruins in five.”
Olear said the power play will important for both the Sabres and the Bruins.
“Vanek’s the key for the Sabres. He didn’t have that great of a regular season, but he’s starting to catch on fire now. Buffalo’s success is also going to depend on how rookie defenseman Tyler Myers plays.”