BUFFALO (LGS) — So who is the real leader on this Buffalo Sabres team: Chris Drury or Daniel Briere?
Don't answer because it's a trick question. Taking nothing away from the Buffalo co-captains, the real leader for the Sabres this spring has been goaltender Ryan Miller. Miller has been a shining example of what you want out of a player and teammate during the playoffs. Off the ice, he says and does all the right things. On the ice, he's simply spectacular.
Throwing out Game 6 in which the Sabres chose to run-and-gun, allowing a desperate Rangers team more offensive freedom, Miller allowed no more than two goals in each of the first five games of the series. If the Sabres would have found a way to score in those games, Miller would have most certainly led his team to a sweep over the Broadway Blueshirts.
With eight wins in 11 games, the Sabres' goaltender comes in at #1 in our Round 2 Player Power Rankings. And he'll need to remain there if he hopes to take the Sabres to their third Stanley Cup finals appearance.
Eastern Conference Semifinals — 04/25 thru 05/06
1. Ryan Miller (A) – Everything starts with the goalie. And this series victory was all about Miller. Often overlooked due to the heroics of a certain co-captain to be named later, Miller stonewalled the Rangers in five of the six games. For all the talk of Lundqvist, Miller is the one who won four games. (1.96 GAA, .935 save %)
2. Chris Drury (A) – Said co-captain stepped up to the plate and belted an equivalent of a game-tying homerun in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and two strikes. Actually, that doesn’t even do it justice. But our own Little League World Series star will likely appreciate the baseball reference. Without his goal, the Rangers likely would have won in 6. (3 G 2 A 5 PTS +3)
3. Daniel Briere (B+) – Robbed of a goal in Game 4 by the referees, not Lundqvist. But his spirited performance when the series was there to take in Game 6 indicated a return of the Briere who scored 95 points in the regular season. He’s back just in time for Ottawa. (1 G 5 A 6 PTS +4)
4. Tim Connolly (A-) – Connolly came to play against the Rangers and was never better. Each game saw at least one opportunity he snatched to dangle the puck through his legs or to make a Ranger into a human pylon. But he never put it past King Henrik. The feeling is that he needs to find a way to get the puck behind Emery against Ottawa, the team that knocked him out of the lineup for a year. (0 G 4 A 4 PTS +3)
5. Dainius Zubrus (A-) – “Zubie” made his presence felt on the ice more than just on the score sheet. With his beautiful hip check on Jaromir Jagr, one of his 31 hits in the series, Zubrus was under the collective Rangers’ skin the entire time. Then you see that Zubrus had three assists to go along with it, and finally the true value of this guy is noticed. (0 G 3 A 3 PTS +4)
6. Ales Kotalik (B+) – Al was out there doing what he made his millions doing. He got his confidence back and scored some big goals in the series. He also recorded 25 hits in the six games, increasing his 11-game total to 37, which ranks third in the league. It seems that playing with Connolly has reinvigorated him. (2 G 1 A 3 PTS +2)
7. Dmitri Kalinin (B+) – Kalinin had another strong series, as he made key plays in helping the team overcome adversity. He even chipped in offensively, scoring a key first goal in a four-goal second-period outburst in Game 6. He also happens to be third in the playoffs with a plus-8 ranking. (1 G 2 A 3 PTS +2)
8. Brian Campbell (B) – Soupy flew out of the gates, scoring a great goal in Game 2. But he tended to disappear at times, getting out of his offensive flow. His power play work on the point needs to be improved before the Senators series, because we aren’t playing with a low-seeded team anymore. (1G 2 A 3 PTS +2)
9. Toni Lydman (B+) – He had his hands full – sometimes quite literally – with Jagr and Co. But he and his defense partner pulled it off, limiting New York to just five regular-strength goals in six games. His 22 blocked shots likely had something to do with that. He’s second in the league for the playoffs in that category, but he trails Ottawa’s Anton Volchenkov, who leads him by two. (0 G 2 A 2 PTS +3)
10. Henrik Tallinder (B-) – He needs to produce slightly more on the offensive side. He, just like the rest of the defense, is at his best when he gets involved offensively. But he did combine with Lydman to slow down Jagr. Penalty-killing needs work though. (0 G 1 A 1 PTS +1)
11. Thomas Vanek (B-) – At the start of the series, T.V. couldn’t be stopped. He potted two goals in Game 1 and the winner in Game 2. But his was a microcosm of the Sabres' offense, as he failed to score a single goal in the last four games. He didn’t even get an assist. His is a true tale of two different players. He did manage to set two important screens in Game 5, which redeems his disappearing act slightly. (3 G 0 A 3 PTS +1)
12. Jason Pominville (B) – Pommers scored a timely goal in Game 6, but his most notable moment came in Game 4 as Lindy Ruff broke up his season-long pairing with co-captain Daniel Briere. The break-up helped all three players involved, if you count Jochen Hecht as well. (2 G 1 A 3 PTS +1)
13. Jochen Hecht (C) – If you take out Game 6, Hecht had a horrible series. With only one assist on Pominville’s Game 1 goal, he was hitting rock bottom. But he finally scored in New York, including the important series-winner, to seize some much-needed confidence for himself. (2 G, 1 A, 3 PTS, +2)
14. Teppo Numminen (B-) – At times, Teppo seemed tired in this series. His game wasn’t as well-rounded as it was against the Islanders, where he went plus-6 through five games. Hopefully, this time off will help him recover a little bit of his groove. (0 G, 1 A, 1 PTS, +3)
15. Adam Mair (B-) – His play slipped in the series, as he was taken from his flanking position on Connolly’s side. His physical presence eluded him as the series wore on, and Mair was returned to his fourth-line duty, playing with Gaustad and Pominville. He had the primary assist on Pominville’s Game 6 goal. (0 G, 2 A, 2 PTS, +2)
16. Drew Stafford (B-) – Getting relegated to the status of "healthy scratch" had nothing to do with his play on the ice. With the return of Paul Gaustad for Game 5, Stafford was given a new role: spectator. He had a decent series before his removal from the lineup. (1 G, 1 A, 2 PTS, +1)
17. Paul Gaustad (B) – We didn’t think we’d get to put in a power ranking again. But he’s back on the list, back on the ice and back on the score sheet. After a decent Game 5, Gaustad assisted on Pominville’s goal in Game 6. Back on the ice, Gaustad looks to build on his recovery, much like Connolly has. (0 G, 1 A, 1 PTS, +1)
18. Maxim Afinogenov (C-) – Like Vanek, but opposite, Maxim Afinogenov displayed some horrible hockey and then righted his ship in Game 5. Benched for horrible puck plays in Game 4, Max came out with a vengeance and scored the winner in Game 5’s overtime. (1 G, 0 A, 1 PTS, E)
19. Derek Roy (C-) – Roy exits the series as the only player on the squad to boast a negative plus-minus stat. Though he cut down on his giveaways – totaling only five in the six-game series – he lost production, recording only one assist. Playing against Ottawa, his hometown team, should spark more from him. (0 G, 1 A, 1 PTS, -1)
20. Jaroslav Spacek (D) – Until he gets his way onto the scorecard, Spacek will not be worth the $3M+ the Sabres shelled out to him in luring him away from the Edmonton Oilers. He played decent in the series but still hasn’t produced like we all hoped, from day one until today. (0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS, +2)
21. Daniel Paille (C) – Just a mere formality, since he did technically play a game for the Sabres. But he played approximately five minutes, leaving no ability to critique.
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