Niagara Gazette

April 14, 2010

Our experts like the Sabres

Niagara Gazette

NIAGARA FALLS — Tim Schmitt, Gazette sports editor

Key Player to Watch: Derek Roy

The leading scorer on a division winner, Roy has never lived up to the hype for scoring in key situations that he built in an impressive junior career. A big showing in the first round can change all that.

X-factor: Tyler Ennis

Just how good is this kid? We’re about to find out. Ennis kickstarted a sluggish offense down the stretch, and he seems to have the poise to handle big situations. Should he be in the lineup? Absolutely. And if he’s paired with Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville, don’t be surprised if he sneaks into the scoring column more than once.

Prediction: Sabres in 4

Dave Burkholder, Niagara hockey coach

Key player to watch: Thomas Vanek

Arguably the streakiest player in the NHL and goes into the playoffs “hotter than a firecracker (to steal a line from Rick Jeanneret).” He looked healthy this past weekend which means bad news for the Bruins. If he stays hot it will shorten this series.

X-Factor: Goaltending

Both teams are comparable on the power play with Buffalo converting on 17.6 percent and the Bruins on 16.6 percent of their respective power plays. Both teams also ranked in the top of the league with the least time spent in the box. That leads us to the X-factor. Ryan Miller vs. Tim Thomas/Tuukka Rask. I’ll stick with Miller to put the Sabres into the second round. Is there anything better in Buffalo springtime than Sabres playoff hockey? It’s Miller time!

Prediction: Sabres

Randy Schultz,

Key Player To Watch: Thomas Vanek

Underachieved this season. His four-goal game performance near the end of the season may be a sign of things to come.

X-Factor: Tyler Myers

Could become a key to the Sabres offensive attack from back at the blue line. Really thrived in the World Juniors when playing in the spotlight. Myers will again lift his game to a new level in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Prediction: Sabres in 6

Bill Hoppe, Olean Times Herald

Key player to watch: Tim Connolly

Their top playmaker dazzled four years ago, compiling arguably the franchise’s best postseason run (five goals and 11 points in eight games) before a concussion derailed his career. Connolly’s back producing points, and he still possesses the talent to go on a scoring tear.

X-factor: Raffi Torres

The team’s lone deadline acquisition has done nothing in 14 games. Torres, however, still scored 19 goals in Columbus. He can be a physical menace. He played a key role in Edmonton’s surprising run to the 2006 Stanley Cup final. Maybe the trade won’t be a massive bust.

Prediction: Sabres in 7

Nick Mendola, WGR reporter/producer

Key Player to Watch: Jason Pominville

The 27-year-old’s hard, heavy shot is now back on track and the two-way forward has quietly been the Sabres’ best all-around player.

X-factor: Raffi Torres

The former No. 5 overall pick has no goals and just five points in 14 games as a Sabre. He has to be better than that, right? Right?

Prediction: Sabres in 6

Shawn Stepner, WKBW-TV anchor

Key Player to Watch: Thomas Vanek

I said it after the Olympic break, and I’ll say it again: I’m still waiting for Vanek to get on the kind of roll he has shown he can get on over the past few seasons. Five goals in his two games after the groin injury is a good place to start. Some goals on the man advantage will go a long way to beating a stingy Boston club.

X-factor: Tyler Myers

The rookie phenom admitted he felt his play dip in the weeks prior to the Olympic break because of fatigue. He’s about to experience a completely different kind of NHL grind. This kid has played on some of the biggest stages in hockey throughout his junior career. They’ll need their best defenseman at his peak for a long playoff run.

Prediction: Sabres in 7