The Conference Finals are set: The Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres in the East, and the Anaheim Ducks and the Detroit Red Wings in the West. You’ve probably read the predictions and projections published by the so-called “experts”, but those experts have got nothing on us; the following is our highly scientific Tale of the Tape, a system of analysis so reliable you can probably take our predictions to the bank. One caveat: We are actively cheering for the Sabres to win it all and cannot approach this objectively. But you, Gentle Readers, aren’t coming to us for objective analysis, are you? Didn’t think so. We watched almost every Sabres game this past season (any team that can topple the bronze statue of Bobby Clarke and put the final nail in that evil regime will win our hearts) and are very well acquainted with the strengths and weaknesses of the Slugs. We got to know Ottawa perhaps too well in that last series, but still probably can’t name more than 5 players on the team (we were too focused on trying to will Rafalski to stop icing the stupid puck). As for Anaheim, we watched a handful of games in the first two rounds, but really only enough to determine we don’t hate them as much as some other teams. Some other teams like the Detroit Red Wings. Whom we hate. With the passion of a thousand suns. But no more excuses! Let’s go to the tape, or rather, the first of our two-part Tale of the Tape series!
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL:
Sabres (1) vs. Senators (4)
Goaltending: Most pundits are saying this series comes down to goaltending, Ryan “Crunchy” Miller vs. Ray “Please lord, make the Google searches for ‘Ray Emery Lamborghini’ stop!” Emery. Since Schnookie has already professed her embarrassing love for the scrawny-armed, long-haired, monocle-browed Miller, and since Emery is like Sean Avery in that we don’t love to hate him, we merely don’t respect him or his approach to being a professional (as an ex-stage manager, Pookie has no tolerance for oversleeping alarms and showing up to work late), the result of this match-up is pretty clear. Advantage: Buffalo.
Coaching: Lindy Ruff overworks his team, making them practice harder and more often than a team probably should during the 82-game grind that is the NHL regular season. Several times he showed a penchant for messing with his goaltenders, starting Miller when it made far more sense to play Biron or Conklin. He occasionally looses his cool when the going gets tough, setting a pretty stupid example for his players. He is, in short, the Ron Wilson of the East. (That is not, in case you were wondering, a good thing.) Bryan Murray, however, made a point of calling out Sidney Crosby, league darling and 19-year-old kid, for saying filthy words during play which might get caught on camera, allowing impressionable youngsters adept at lip-reading to learn salty language. We suppose this means the Senators are comprised entirely of self-starters who can manage themselves and their opponents without needing the attention of their 600-win coach, since he obviously has time to worry about even the most mundane and irrelevant actions of another team’s superstar. Advantage: Push. They’re both nuts.
Uniforms: The new Buffalo sweaters took a beating at the beginning of the season, culminating it that fabulous photoshopping of the logo onto Barney Rubble’s head, but admit it, you’ve come to love them, haven’t you? The buffaslug is secretly adorable and it has furrily slimed its way into your heart. The colors might not be the traditional blue and gold of Sabres past, but we’ve all read enough of Paul Lukas’s work to appreciate the restraint the designers used in not adding purple, metallics or grid-iron patterns to the look. Meanwhile, the Ottawa sweaters feature numbers that make us feel like the Sens brass is trying to convince us we need to trade our fancy new cell phones in for Jitterbugs. Strangely, those giant numbers are remarkably difficult to read. Moreover, the logo at center ice always looks off balance because of the arc made by the senator’s bristly helmet accoutrement. Advantage: Buffaslugs.
Mascots: This is an element of hockey teams that is often overlooked by the so-called pundits of the main-stream (read: self-respecting) media. But we (read: Schnookie) wouldn’t dream of failing to factor in such an important contributor to any team’s success. The Sabres have Sabretooth pounding their glass, rapelling from their rafters, and fist-bumping the players coming off the bench after every win. Sabretooth is prominently featured during every Sabres telecast, and, after watching him in person (during the game we attended he spent one intermission playing goal against the Mites On Ice, and in the second intermission wedged himself so tightly into what we probably erroneously remember being a Chrysler Pacifica that we thought they’d have to get out the Jaws Of Life to extricate him), we can say with confidence that he is AWESOME. The Senators have Spartacat; we have never seen him in person, so in the interest of fairness we checked out his stats on the Senators official website. He dislikes people who litter, he is Ottawa’s self-proclaimed “biggest party animal” and he, like Paul Gaustad (see below), enjoys reading and “raking Leafs”. He is not, though, as cute as Sabretooth — his mane is kind of lank, he lacks the traditional mascot pot belly and he shares a name with Michigan State University’s mascot, which means he can only help to ramp up MSU alum Ryan Miller. Furthermore, the only time we’ve seen him on TV this postseason, Sparty was rummaging through a woman’s purse. Advantage: Sabres.
Players We Love, In Spite Of Ourselves: We try not to base our decisions to cheer for teams on reasoning as shallow as “I just inexplicably like that player, so I’m cheering for his team” or (more specifically) “That guy’s hot. I want him to win”, but sometimes it happens despite our best efforts. This series should be rife with those kinds of players, because really, the attractiveness factor is pretty high for both these clubs. The Sabres have very few players who are less than pleasant looking, and as we’ve mentioned in this space before we actually seem to like the ugliest ones best (See: Stafford, Drew and Miller, Crunchy). We can’t help but cheer for the likes of Jason Pominville, of whom we are reminded every time we see the 9-week-old labradoodle puppy that lives up the street from us, and Teppo Numminen, our handsome (and tall) fellow shopper from the good old days at the 90th and Via Linda AJ’s Fine Food And Spirits in Scottsdale, AZ, and “Pretty” Paul Gaustad, who informed us in a PSA broadcast in the HSBC Arena during our March road trip up there that “Books are the foundation of reading.” Thanks, Paul! We will give a hoot and read a book. Meanwhile the Senators boast in their lineup one Wade Redden, about whom Schnookie once wrote, “He has a tangle of auburn curls and a peaches and cream complexion that brings people to mind of a naughty English schoolboy.” They might not actually have any other players we think are cute enough to overlook their affiliation with a team that just eliminated the Devils, but Wade all by his lonesome is just that cute. Advantage: Push.
Players Who Annoy The Living Crap Out Of Us: If we are going to sit through a best-of-seven series featuring two teams that are not the one with whom we most closely identify as fans, those teams had better hope they’re not manned by players who annoy us. This series is thankfully short of the Jaromir Jagr type of superstar who makes our eyes bleed, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a bit of an “annoying player” factor at play. The Sabres have in their lineup a certain player whose famous clutch tendencies first came to the fore in a certain Stanley Cup Final which shall not be named (hint: it happened in 2001), and for that we have not entirely forgiven him. However, same player also scored the goal in Game 5 that broke the Rangers, which means we are, at least until he signs with the Rangers this summer, relenting a bit on the Drury thing. The only other Sabre we really and truly hate is Andrew Peters, and frankly, he’s not going to factor into this series at all, is he? The Senators, on the other hand, are toeing a very dangerous line with the number of players we hate, both rationally and irrationally. There’s the Heatley, Alfredsson, Spezza trio, fresh from not just single-handedly beating the Devils, but also singling out and humiliating our beloved Jay Pandolfo. There’s assy Chris Neil, whom any self-respecting hockey fan hates on principle. There’s bratty, bitchy little Mike Comrie, with his ridiculously inflated sense of worth (way to derail your entire career with your idiotic contract holdouts and trade demands there, buddy) and strangely pointy/square face that always looks like he’s wearing geisha makeup. And there’s Ray Emery, who is not as charmingly off-beat as he thinks he is, and is consequently not even fun to dislike. He’s just annoying. Advantage: Buffalo.
Playoff History Against New Jersey: Until very recently we were ambivalent about the Senators and their playoff history against New Jersey. Sure, they upset the Devils in the first round in 1998, but the brutal, burning pain of that experience was more than alleviated by the storybook ECF win they handed the Devils in 2003. It was kind of a wash. But then… there was this year. Until the Senators roll over in the path of another Stanley Cup run by our very own boys, they will have this dark, dark mark against them. The Sabres have been kind enough not to have beaten the Devils in a playoff series we were watching. Advantage: Buffalo.
City Claims to Fame: Emphasizing its status as the Paris of Western New York, Buffalo is nicknamed the City of Light. Buffalo was home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Administration Building, the first office building that endeavored to make an environment that fostered healthy and efficient modern work conditions. The official seal of Buffalo features a tall ship that looks suspiciously like it is about to crash into a lighthouse, bringing into question the efficacy of said lighthouse. The small ship in the canal pictured at the bottom of the seal seems to be advertising the safety of canal travel over open-sea sailing. Ottawa, on the other hand, has the Rideau Canal, which allows for clips of incredibly picturesque pleasure skating used in the flavoring shots before and after intermissions of hockey games. Should Pookie ever drop a heavy reference volume on her foot at work, she’ll appreciate that the protocols used to determine whether an ankle injury is serious enough to require an X-ray are named for Ottawa. The city shield features a lumberjack, a rifle man, pine cones and a zany knight’s visored-helmet with a riot of blue and white feathers. Advantage: Push.
And perhaps the most important ingredient for success: The Stafford Factor: The Sabres have Drew Stafford in their lineup (although they don’t always use him). The Senators do not have Drew Stafford in their lineup. Advantage: Buffalo.
Conclusion: We thought it would be closer than this, considering how our heads are telling us to predict Ottawa will win this series without breaking much of a sweat, but our system is, as we previously mentioned, highly scientific. It doesn’t lie. And clearly the Sabres have an overwhelming advantage. So there you go: Sabres in 7.
Stay tuned, Gentle Reader, for tomorrow’s installment of our two-part Tale of the Tape, “The Western Conference Final”.