BUFFALO (LGS) — I've maintained all along that Dainius Zubrus has looked and played better each and every game since coming to the Sabres at the NHL trade deadline in late February. The Eastern Conference quarterfinals were no different for the Lithuanian winger as Zubrus was a force to be reckoned with. He used his big body to dish out some of the biggest hits of the series in addition to making some fantastic plays in the offensive zone that led directly to Buffalo goals.
His play was a major reason for Chris Drury's success this series, which is why we ranked Zubrus just ahead of his center and co-captain in the Player Power Rankings for the first round of the 2007 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. As for the rest of Lindy Ruff's crew, we haven't really seen the best out of most of them just yet.
Despite having a point each game, Daniel Briere was nowhere near his best. And what happened to Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder? Luckily, the Sabres had some surprises — Adam Mair, Tim Connolly, Dmitri Kalinin — step up to fill the void left behind the team's top regular-season performers.
In addition to ranking each player from 1 through 19 this series, we gave each of them a grade. The letter-grade corresponds to how well that player played to his expected potential.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals — 04/12 thru 04/20
1. Dainius Zubrus (A) — From start to finish, no Sabre gave a more complete effort against the Islanders than Zubrus. He used his big body to control the puck and to dish some of the biggest hits of the series. Another great Darcy Regier pickup. (Stats: 0 G, 5 A, -2)
2. Chris Drury (B+) — Could have arguably been the top spot had he not been dominated in the faceoff circle by Mike Sillinger. (Stats: 4 G, 1 A, 5 PTS, +1)
3. Ryan Miller (A-) — In five games, he let in two, maybe three goals he should have stopped. But other than that, Miller was a rock in net from Game 1 through clinching the series by robbing Miroslav Satan in the dying seconds of Game 5. (Stats: 4 W, 1 L, 2.21 GAA, .918 save %)
4. Brian Campbell (B+) — He looked like an All-Star throughout most of this series. He dominated the Islanders in Game 1 and was solid defensively from there on out. (Stats 2 G, 2 A, 4 PTS, +1)
5. Dmitri Kalinin (A) — When the games mean more, you can expect Kalinin to bring his "A-Game" each and every night. To no one's surprise, he was Buffalo's best defensive-defenseman against the Islanders. All around, Kalinin played very solid and very smart this series. (Stats: 1 G, 0 A, 1 PT, +6)
6. Teppo Numminen (A) — As with his defensive partner, Numminen stepped his game up to a level we didn't see this regular season. Five on five, Numminen along with Kalinin were the best defensive pairing of the series. (Stats: 0 G, 2 A, 2 PTS, +6)
7. Thomas Vanek (B-) — While I don't think we've seen the best of Vanek yet, he did score some timely goals. His line needs to be better against the Rangers. (Stats: 2 G, 2 A, 4 PTS, Even)
8. Tim Connolly (B+) — Considering he's only been back for about two weeks, Connolly was a pleasant surprise, averaging over 13 minutes of ice time each game. The power play looked better with him on the point, and his stickhandling got better each game. (Stats: 0 G, 3 A, 3 PTS, +2)
9. Daniel Briere (C) — Simply put, we expect more out of Briere. If the Sabres are to win these playoffs, they need their co-captain to play much better. Still, despite not playing anywhere near his best, he did have a point each game. (Stats: 1 G, 4 A, 5 PTS, +2)
10. Adam Mair (A-) — Game 1 had us all asking for Danny Paille's return, but Mair stepped it up over the last four games of the series. He played physical and was responsible at both ends of the ice. Most surprisingly, he added three points. (Stats: 1 G, 2 A, 3 PTS, +3)
11. Maxim Afinogenov (C+) — Maybe it's just me, but I was frustrated with Max this series. I was expecting much more from him against a slow-footed Islanders defense. Hopefully he rebounds against the Rangers, another team he should have a field-day with. (Stats: 1 G, 3 A, 4 PTS, +3)
12. Drew Stafford (B) — The rookie was quiet early on, but as he got more comfortable the better he looked. I wouldn’t be too surprised if he has a bigger and better series against the Rangers. (Stats: 1 G, 1 A, 2 PTS, +2)
13. Jaroslav Spacek (C+) — We're still waiting for that $3.3+ million player to arrive. He hasn't yet, but he was solid defensively in this series. (Stats: 0 PTS, Even)
14. Jason Pominville (C+) — Pominville gets about two or three good chances a game that he usually puts to waste. That was the case again early in the series, but he did redeem himself in Games 4 and 5. (Stats: 2 G, 1 A, 3 PTS, +1)
15. Derek Roy (C) — As with Pominville, Roy turned his game around in the latter half of the series. Early on he was giving the puck away too many times. His seven giveaways were the most on the Sabres. (Stats: 1 G, 2 A, 3 PTS, +1)
16. Ales Kotalik (C+) — He led the Sabres in hits this series with 12. While it was nice to see him using his body again, it was disappointing not seeing him pick up a few more points, especially with Tim Connolly as his centerman. (Stats: 0 G, 1 A, 1 PT, -2)
17. Jochen Hecht (C) — Normally I have no problem ranking Jochen higher when he doesn't have any points, as was the case this series. His strong plays usually don't figure directly into points, but we really didn't see what we’re used to out of the German winger. (0 PTS, +2)
18. Toni Lydman (C-) — While I don't think Lydman played that bad this series, his flimsy backhander late in the second period of Game 3 could have turned the series had the Islander built off of that momentum-changing goal. (Stats: 1 G, 0 A, 1 PT, -3)
19. Henrik Tallinder (D) — Never in a million years would I have expected Hank the Tank to be dead last, but he was. His play slipped late in the regular season, and he hasn't rebounded yet. The Sabres need him to regain his top form, and they need it to happen fast. (Stats: 0 G, 1 A, 1 PT, -2)
DNP: Nathan Paetsch, Daniel Paille, Andrew Peters, Paul Gaustad (injured)
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