There’s something I’ve always found fascinating about Game 6s. I know that Game 7s are obviously everyone’s favorite game of a series, but Game 6s are really underrated. Maybe it’s because I’ve always preferred semifinals or “conference” championship rounds in pretty much all competitions, and Game 6s have that sort of penultimate feel to them, of course positioned against the possibility of playoff extinction for the team facing elimination.
Today we have three Game 6s, with two of the home teams actually leading their respective series. It starts soon with the Buffalo Sabres looking to close out the defending conference champion Philadelphia Flyers. I haven’t written about this series much, and it would be foolish to try to start 20 minutes before Game 6 starts, but there are two things that should be interesting to watch. First, it seems unclear even now whether center Derek Roy will be making his return for the Sabres today. My gut would tell me no, but coach Lindy Ruff has been dropping hints for days about this. Roy hasn’t played since Christmas, but at that time he was leading a very disappointing Sabres squad in scoring. Since Roy picked up his injury, the team was sold to a guy who cares and the Sabres found themselves making that playoff run. Now they find themselves with a home closeout opportunity, and they really need to make this one count. There’s no way I would consider Buffalo likely to advance should they have to play a Game 7 in Philly on Tuesday, even if Roy is likely to be in the lineup.
The second thing to watch is the Flyer crease. It is being reported that Michael Leighton will make his first playoff start, and in fact only his second start of the entire season. Leighton came off last year’s finals run with an injury to start the year, and found himself the odd man out after Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher started the year so well. But after Game 2’s yanking of the rookie Russian, and Game 5’s pulling of the veteran Boucher, Leighton found himself between the pipes in a game that the Flyers came back to take to overtime. Buffalo did score on Leighton to win two nights ago, but you could hardly say that Leighton had anything to do with the Flyers’ loss. After all, he entered the game down 3-0, and ended up losing in OT 4-3 after saving his first 20 shots, before eventually succumbing to the game ender. Starting Leighton today could be seen as a panic move, but it also could be seen as a team starting the goalie that they feel gives them the best chance to win. In addition to Leighton, it appears that Chris Pronger will be making his first appearance today.
If the Sabres are able to win today, they’ll book their date with the Washington Capitals in the conference semifinals. The winners of the other two series would then face each other.
The second game today is the other one seeing the home team with a 3-2 series lead. Anaheim will try to keep their season alive by winning tonight in Nashville and forcing a Game 7 Tuesday night at their place, the Honda Center. I don’t think there’s any prediction necessary, except that the Ducks need to reverse this trend of allowing 5 more shots than they take. It seems unlikely that they could do that on the road, but it was Game 4 in Nashville when the Ducks outshot the Preds by a whopping 38-22 margin. They’ve been outshot in the other four games, which screams of a lack of attention to detail and perhaps the youth on their blueline, but it would be foolish to think that an Anaheim win today was impossible, especially given the record for road teams in this first round of play. It will be Ray Emery vs. Pekka Rinne in nets, to nobody’s surprise.
The final game of the night will be Vancouver at Chicago. That game seems worthy of it’s own entry, so I will come back to that at some point before the 7:30 p.m. eastern start time.
The puck is dropping in Buffalo on NBC.