Ryan Miller, Jhonas Enroth

What Went Wrong: Buffalo Sabres

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The Sabres headed into the playoffs on a hot streak as well as having had to fight tooth and nail to make the postseason. Would they have a let down or not? Turns out they did when matching up against the Philadelphia Flyers as they lacked a killer instinct as well as the ability to find someone to keep an eye on Daniel Briere. Sure they pushed Philadelphia to seven games and made a valiant effort, but ultimately things failed for Buffalo and Game 7 incorporated a lot of those shortcomings.

1. Ryan Miller was far too average
Let’s look at a pair of stats from the playoffs:

Goalie A: 2.10 goals against average with a .934 save percentage
Goalie B: 2.93 goals against average with a .917 save percentage

Goalie A was Brian Boucher against Buffalo while Goalie B was Ryan Miller. You’re confused now aren’t you? You should be especially considering that Miller had two shutouts.

In four losses, Miller was very much average. With a team as banged up and shorthanded as the Sabres were, having Ryan Miller be very middle of the road killed them. It’s stunning to see that Boucher’s numbers look incredible in comparison but considering the problems the Flyers had in goal all series long, that should give you a good idea for how Miller actually played.

2. No defensive presence
Take a look at who the Sabres defensemen are and tell me if you can spot a guy that you’d refer to as a shut-down defenseman. Steve Montador? No. Jordan Leopold? Nuh uh. Tyler Myers? Not yet. Any of the guys you could pull off that roster on defense is not a guy most teams would find confident in putting out on the ice in a situation where you need to stop the other team or else. A lot of those guys are very useful and productive… But they don’t come with that physical means of play or the kind of snarl it takes to win in the playofs.

3. Not enough talent
It makes sense for a 2 seed vs. 7 seed match up to have a big discrepancy in talent and that was the case here. While the Flyers could run three pretty steady and useful lines at you to score along with a full army of quality defensemen, the Sabres had no ability to really keep up with that. Factoring in injuries to Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville, things were that much more desperate even with getting Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy back for Game 7. There’s little chance either player was a full 100% and those are battles the Sabres cannot win.

4. Just couldn’t finish
In both Games 5 and 6, the Sabres held sizable leads and couldn’t finish things off in regulation. The inability to put the Flyers away once they were down and seemingly out of it was an obvious bad sign for them. Getting up by two or three goals and holding the lead has been a major issue all over the playoffs but for Buffalo, their failure to keep the lead in Game 6 was their ultimate undoing in the series. When it’s a game where you can wrap up a series, there’s no good excuse for allowing the opponent to dominate you to win the game. The combination of poor defense and a not very Ryan Miller-like Ryan Miller made this all possible. Getting sub-par performances from Drew Stafford and Tim Connolly made things even more difficult on the other side of the puck.

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The Sabres can build off this defeat in a lot of ways. While their team will no doubt look a little different next season, the Sabres have hope. With new ownership in place they’ll be active in free agency and looking for forward help, most likely up the middle at center. They’ll be back at it next year and with Ryan Miller getting a bit more time off to breathe the Sabres should be that much more dangerous.

Ducks give Bruins first loss under Cassidy, putting … Islanders in wild card

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 22:  Korbinian Holzer #5 of the Anaheim Ducks pushes David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins during the second period of a game at Honda Center on February 22, 2017 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Wednesday was a night of futility in the Eastern Conference wild card races, so it make sense that a team that didn’t even play ended up grabbing the second spot.

To recap:

  • The Florida Panthers began the night in the second wild card spot. However, they were knocked down the totem pole when they lost in regulation to the Edmonton Oilers.
  • The Boston Bruins inherited the second wild card spot from Florida, but the Anaheim Ducks just gave them their first loss under Bruce Cassidy. With that defeat coming in regulation, it meant that the Bruins’ stay in the East’s top eight lasted mere hours.
  • So, congrats to the New York Islanders, who enjoyed the rare tiebreaker treat of climbing into playoff position even though they didn’t even play on Wednesday.

(The Philadelphia Flyers were out of reach here, but they didn’t do themselves any favors in losing to the Washington Capitals.)

Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were kept off the board as Jonathan Bernier won one for the Ducks, who stay right behind the Edmonton Oilers in a battle for second in the Pacific.

Despite Pastrnak’s -3 rating in this one, Marchand probably had the toughest night thanks to Bernier and Josh Manson:

This one hurts, but it’s also a reminder that there will probably be plenty of twists and turns in the races for the lower spots in the East and Atlantic Division. With that in mind, the Bruins have to shake it off and get ready to face the Kings in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Kuznetsov, bad breaks baffle Flyers in loss to Capitals

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Here’s what went right for the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday: the Florida Panthers lost. Yep, that’s about it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty lousy time, as the Washington Capitals beat them at home 4-1 tonight.

Washington’s big names came to play here, highlighted by Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring two goals. T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom enjoyed one-goal, one-assist nights while Justin Williams and Alex Ovechkin both grabbed two assists.

The Capitals won their first game after a bye week (following two losses), improving their Metropolitan Division lead to five points and Presidents’ Trophy edge over Minnesota to three.

The Flyers fail to make up some ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race, staying at 63 standings points in 60 games played. The Panthers are tied with the Islanders and Bruins at 66 points, though Boston can change the picture ever so slightly against Anaheim (still in action) tonight.

The bottom line, again, is that the Flyers failed in a chance to get a little closer to that logjam for the last East spot.

Of course, plenty of Flyers fans will grumble about missed opportunities and iffy calls. Mike Milbury broke down the early setbacks that made life that much tougher for Philly:

Philly couldn’t overcome the Capitals and that bad luck, making their playoff hopes a little dimmer as the trade deadline approaches.

Oilers win on rare Russell goal, Panthers fall out of second wild card spot

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The Edmonton Oilers’ 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers might end up being costly if Andrej Sekera misses significant time.

But, hey, at least it was a win.

The two rising squads engaged in a back-and-forth game, with the Oilers winning in regulation. Maybe fittingly with Edmonton leaking defensemen lately: Kris Russell was the guy to score the game-winner, set up by Connor McDavid‘s blazing speed and a nice pass by Leon Draisaitl.

It was Russell’s first goal in more than a year.

The Oilers will remain in the second spot in the Pacific at the end of the night whether the Anaheim Ducks beat the Boston Bruins or not. Interestingly, this puts them in a reasonable position to catch the Sharks for first place in the division, too.

1. Sharks – 77 points in 60 games
2. Oilers – 74 points in 61 games
3. Ducks – 72 points in 61 games (in progress vs. Boston)

The Oilers likely had some fans out East tonight, as this loss pushes Florida down the wild card rankings. They’re actually out of the second spot thanks to tiebreakers.

Second wild card spot: Bruins – 66 points in 59 games, 30 wins and 28 ROW (in progress)

Islanders – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 27 ROW
Panthers – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 25 ROW

The Isles would move into the second spot if Boston loses in regulation, underscoring just how congested this situation is. But either way, the Panthers won’t be in the East’s top eight at the end of the night.

With Gibson out, Ducks recall interesting goalie: Enroth

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11: Jhonas Enroth #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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One player’s injury is another player’s opportunity.

Considering how much the Anaheim Ducks lean on John Gibson, it’s troubling that he’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Even so, it’s interesting to note that such a situation prompted the team to recall Jhonas Enroth, who will back up Jonathan Bernier during Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins.

With the way Bernier’s been playing at times, it’s not impossible that Enroth could play as soon as tonight. But if he doesn’t you have to wonder if the Ducks might feel compelled to throw a start his way in the next week.

The trade deadline is coming, and while the goalie market is really cold, some of that slow movement likely comes from how cap-unfriendly netminders like Ben Bishop might be.

But what about Enroth? His cap hit is $750K this season, and while he thoroughly unimpressed Mike Babcock with rapid speed in Toronto, he was fantastic as a backup in Los Angeles last season and has been outstanding lately for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.

All things considered, it’s almost a little surprising the Ducks aren’t throwing him right into the deep end tonight. If you’re a team with poor backup goaltending like the Edmonton Oilers or any number of other teams,* why wouldn’t you give the Ducks a call?

Maybe they need to see him in action in the NHL before doing so, making this an intriguing scenario to follow.

And, hey, maybe the Ducks themselves might decide that he’s a better option behind Gibson than Bernier. Stranger things have happened.

* – The Leafs might qualify, honestly … but again, Babs doesn’t seem to be an Enroth fan.