Some are wondering if the Boston Bruins' historic collapse to the Philadelphia Flyers last year will have any effect on their semifinal series this year. That would be the case if the same two teams were playing each other, but that is not the case as there have been 16 roster changes between Game 7 last year and the end of the series this year including 10 for Boston.
The core of the Flyers is still the same, but the have added even more depth. Their third pairing has been upgraded from Ryan Parent and Lukas Krajicek to Sean O'Donnell and Andrej Meszaros. Up front they lost veteran sniper Simon Gagne and grinder Arron Asham who have been replaced by Kris Versteeg, who came out on the right side of Game 6 last year, and inconsistent (that's being generous) Nikolay Zherdev. In goal, Michael Leighton finished up the series after Brian Boucher went down with an injury, but it is Boucher who will once again be starting the series.
The Bruins have made many changes throughout the roster. They have replaced an injured and largely ineffective Marc Savard with Nathan Horton who had three goals including two overtime winners in his first playoff series. There is a lot more sandpaper on the forward lines as Vladimir Sobotka, Miroslav Satan and Blake Wheeler were replaced by Greg Campbell, Chris Kelly and Brad Marchand, players who are much better at mucking it up and winning battles in the corners which is exactly what you need to win in the playoffs. Tim Thomas brings his experience back to the net over Tuukka Rask.
There are some similarities too. Both teams have a monstrous defenseman to punish anyone willing to get into their territory. But while Chris Pronger is coming into the series relatively rested and is still one of the meanest and nastiest players to go up against while Zdeno Chara doesn't use his size to his advantage nearly enough and tries to poke check too often when he could easily take the body. Mike Richards and Milan Lucic have both underachieved as neither have a goal so far in the playoffs after showing how clutch they can be last year.
The Bruins will certainly remember the collapse last year, but they have had enough turnover so that it doesn't matter as this is a completely revamped team.
Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has received a contract extension. Ruff, while failing to lead the Sabres to the Stanley Cup, has gotten a lot out of his teams. Only once in 14 years have the Sabres gone below 82 points. That was the 2002-03 season when only one player who finished the season in Buffalo had more than 35 points. With the exception of the first two season after the lockout, he has had little offense to work with, but the Sabres have remained competitive. Their leading scorers in each year and their finish since Ruff took over goes as follows:
- 1998-98: Miroslav Satan - 46 points - 89 points, third in division, lost conference final
- 1998-99: Miroslav Satan - 66 points - 91 points, fourth in division, lost Stanley Cup final
- 1999-2000: Miroslav Satan - 67 points - 85 points, third in division, lost round 1
- 2000-01: Miroslav Satan - 62 points - 98 points, second in division, lost round 2
- 2001-02: Miroslav Satan - 73 points - 82 points, fifth in division, missed playoffs
- 2002-03: Miroslav Satan - 75 points - 72 points, fifth in division, missed playoffs
- 2003-04: Danny Briere - 65 points - 85 points, fifth in division, missed playoffs
- 2005-06: Maxim Afinogenov - 73 points - 110 points, second in division, lost round 3
- 2006-07: Danny Briere - 95 points - 113 points, first in division, lost round 3
- 2007-08: Derek Roy - 81 points - 90 points, fourth in division, missed playoffs
- 2008-09: Derek Roy - 70 points - 91 points, third in division, missed playoffs
- 2009-10: Derek Roy - 69 points - 100 points, first in division, lost round 1
- 2010-11: Tomas Vanek - 73 points - 96 points, second in division, lost round 1
Now that Terry Pegula is the GM and is committed to spending money to build a champion, Ruff will have the best opportunity to coach a contender in his career. When he had the elite players, the Sabres were contenders, going to the 1999 Stanley Cup final and winning the 2006-07 Presidents' Trophy for the best regular season record. But Dominic Hasek, Briere, Chris Drury, Mike Peca and Brian Campbell have all left for greener pastures, leaving Ruff second liners and backup goalies to try and win with. If they can keep their star players for a change, they certainly have the coach to lead them.