We've reached that time when playoff matchups start to become tangible. Right now, there are four teams (Sabres, Panthers, Habs, Rangers) who could likely become the Bruins' first-round opponent. The obvious question: which poison would we pick?
Over the next couple of days, we'll break down the potential matchups according to traditional "who's ready for the playoffs" categories. These should reveal any red-flags which might signal a potential first-round upset. First up...
Matchup: Early in the season, the Sabres were seemingly the only team who could figure out the Bruins. They play a fast-paced game and sometimes carry a large chip on their shoulder. Generally, divisional matchups favor the underdog.
Record vs. Bruins: Split 4 regulation games, and won a shootout.
Notable performances: Miller has been subpar against the Bruins, with an ugly stat line of 3.36 and .895. Pominville led the team with 1-6-7 and Derek Roy chipped in 3-3-6.
Recent play: Despite collapsing under the loss of Miller, picked up some timely wins against playoff competitors -- including an inspiring comeback against Florida.
Clutch player: Miller is the heart and soul of the team; he has to play big for them to win. Coaching: Lindy Ruff is the league's most stable and experienced coach.
Injury Situation: Mair and Numminen are banged up, but the real question: Is Miller 100%?
Recent playoff history: The Sabres made Conference Finals runs in '06 and '07. Historically, they lost their first 5 playoff series against Boston before winning the past 2. It was an epic matchup in the early '90s and still has that division-rival flair.
Tough barn?: Yes. Buffalo might be cursed for championships, but you don't want to play there in April. That's about the snow starts to melt and the local residents come out of hibernation.
Overall: C-minus. The Bruins would rather play a team who doesn't have their number lately, but the Sabres are clearly not a major postseason threat. The bigger question is whether the Bruins would survive this series in a condition to win the second round.
Matchup: The Panthers can't seem to crack the Bruins' defense, and even a phenom like Vokoun can only hold a game close for just so long.
Record vs. Bruins: Brutal. A tight 2-0 win doesn't compensate for their 3 losses, in which they were outscored 14-3.
Notable performances: Vokoun (2.30, .941) would surely get the start over Anderson (5.04, .864). Against the Bruins, Horton (0-1-1), Weiss (0-0-0) and Zednik (0-0-0) were invisible.
Recent Play: Cooled off considerably. They've shown little poise under pressure.
Clutch players: Vokoun. There would be a lot of pressure on Bouw, Booth and Horton.
Coaching: Rookie Peter DeBoer has done an admirable job, but is not a magician.
Injury situation: Hulking D Bryan Allen is a longshot to return from a knee injury.
Recent playoff history: None. Upset B's during '96 Finals run, their only successful playoff year.
Tough barn: No, barring any rat-throwing.
Overall: A. This is the sort of opponent that a #1 seed is supposed to draw. The Panthers are spunky but they would be clear-cut underdogs in this series.