Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun say the Sabres have a lock on a playoff spot and evaluate the Canucks' goaltenders.
Burnside: Greetings, my friend. I am feeling a bit sheepish today. During my weekly online chat, I was less than complimentary of the Buffalo Sabres' playoff chances, in part because I questioned the depth of their leadership. Of course, a few hours later, they put on an impressive display against Northeast Division-leading Boston, erasing 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to win in overtime. The Sabres, who poured 45 shots at Tim Thomas on Thursday night, look as though they've got a lock on seventh place in the East and could end up playing the Bruins in the first round in what would be a rematch of last year's first-round tilt won by Boston in six games. Thursday night's game was a rough-and-tumble affair, and the Sabres more than held their own against one of the most physical teams in the NHL. Maybe I've undersold their chances come April. What say you?
LeBrun: Scotty, the Sabres have beat the Bruins four straight times, and tell me that doesn't give Boston some food for thought for April should the two clubs meet for the second spring in a row. Last April, the Sabres were division champs, but the Bruins eliminated them. There's a chance for revenge should the Sabres draw the Bruins. First, Buffalo has to make the playoffs, but I think that's becoming more and more of a reality. Of concern, however, for Buffalo was the loss of leading goal scorer Drew Stafford to a strained hamstring Thursday night. They must hope that isn't serious. In the meantime, newly acquired center Brad Boyes is making GM Darcy Regier look mighty good, scoring the overtime winner Thursday night to give him six points (3-3) in six games as a Sabre. The Sabres are 4-1-1 on a road trip that head coach Lindy Ruff told me earlier this week was the biggest of the season for them. They wrap up the seven-game trip Saturday night here in Toronto with a chance to further damage the Maple Leafs' playoff hopes.
Burnside: At the risk of stating the obvious, I think that's it for the Leafs, who lost 3-2 at home to Phildadelphia on Thursday night. The Leafs are six points out of eighth with a game in hand on the eighth-place New York Rangers. But you have to wonder what some players are thinking as Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek drilled Daniel Carcillo from behind early in the first period Thursday night. Komisarek, a huge disappointment since coming to Toronto from Montreal, was ejected from the game, and the Flyers scored on the early power play. (They actually scored twice, but the second goal was disallowed.) The Leafs fought valiantly but ultimately came up empty. Those are the kinds of plays that separate playoff teams from pretenders. They'll need a big bounce-back effort against Buffalo to stay in the hunt. Two other teams with an outside shot at the last playoff berth in the East tangle Friday night in Atlanta, as Ilya Kovalchuk returns with his red-hot New Jersey Devils. Like the Leafs, it's down to being able to absorb only a loss or two for both the Thrashers and Devils if they hope to defy the odds and sneak into the playoffs. But I know you're interested in how Thursday night's big Western Conference showdown played out in San Jose.
LeBrun: To me, that was the game of the night at the Shark Tank, two Stanley Cup contenders slugging it out. And, count me in if San Jose and Vancouver meet up again in the playoffs. That was a thrilling affair Thursday night, the Canucks prevailing 5-4 in a shootout and the Sharks certainly deserving at least a point given their 48-28 shot advantage. Backup goalie Cory Schneider made 44 saves for the Canucks and once again showed that he's got No. 1 material written all over him. It just won't likely happen in Vancouver given Roberto Luongo's 12-year contract, which came into effect this season. But what it does for the Canucks this season, their 40th in the NHL and so far their very best, is given them insurance come playoff time should Luongo get injured or perhaps struggle (which I doubt). The Canucks haven't been shy to use Schneider in big games this season, and I think that gives them confidence that he could pull it off come playoff time should he have to start.
Burnside: I want some of what you're having if you think the Canucks will ever decide Schneider is a better option at any point in the playoffs this spring. Take this to the bank: If Schneider appears for anything other than mop-up duty in the postseason, the Canucks are cooked. Yes, he's played well and has been given more responsibility this season, but this is still Luongo's ship, and the Canucks will sink or swim with him. Long-term, it will be interesting to see what GM Mike Gillis does with the talented Schneider, but this isn't like, say, Philadelphia, where I can see Peter Laviolette bouncing from Sergei Bobrovsky to Brian Boucher and still having success. Or Washington, where Bruce Boudreau has three rookies who can all get the job done in goal providing they're healthy. I'm not saying we won't see the annual Luongo tearfest -- to me, it's a rite of passage every spring -- but Schneider is an afterthought right now.
LeBrun: Luongo is definitely the man, Scotty. I'm just saying the Canucks have some good insurance. Put your reading glasses on, or stop putting brandy in your coffee. As for Schneider, my bet is that the Canucks will shop him at the NHL draft in June to see whether there's a taker. He's a valuable chip, and his value will be high this offseason. With Antti Niemi and Jimmy Howard removing themselves form the UFA market, Schneider might be a desirable asset. Mind you, Tomas Vokoun will still hit the market, and to this point, Ilya Bryzgalov hasn't signed a new contract either as he awaits the Phoenix Coyotes' ownership mess to iron itself out. Have a great weekend, my friend.