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.

PHT Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby eyes more history

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks to face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Bob McKenzie shares his memories of Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie, who apparently was a big hockey fan. (TSN)

Don Cherry discusses John Brophy’s toughness after the former Leafs coach recently passed away. (Sportsnet)

 

A look at Vincent Lecavalier‘s career. (Greatest Hockey Legends)

The perils of flip-flopping goalies in the playoffs … although it worked out for the Penguins at least last night. (The Hockey News)

Speaking of which, will the Blues get burned for switching back to Brian Elliott in Game 6 tonight? Here’s a preview:

Sidney Crosby has a chance to join a very rare club of clutch goal-scorers if he can win it for Pittsburgh in Game 7:

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.