For Flyers, shutting down Sabres team leader Thomas Vanek is imperative

The Sabres' Thomas Vanek attempts to beat out the Flyers' Jeff Carter for possession of the puck in Friday's game. Vanek scored the overtime goal in Buffalo's 4-3 win.
The Sabres' Thomas Vanek attempts to beat out the Flyers' Jeff Carter for possession of the puck in Friday's game. Vanek scored the overtime goal in Buffalo's 4-3 win.
Posted: April 12, 2011

As the Flyers use the days leading into Thursday's Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to scheme against the Buffalo Sabres, there's little mystery about what line they'll focus their attention on shutting down.

Unlike the Flyers, whose depth and versatility up front make it difficult to identify their top line, the Buffalo Sabres have a clear No. 1 trio with wingers Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville flanking center Tim Connolly.

The Connolly line is a major reason why Buffalo begins the playoffs on a 16-4-4 run. Connolly, Vanek, and Pominville, all veterans, have combined for 47 points (19 goals, 28 assists) in the last 16 games.

Connolly indicated it was just a matter of time before his line began producing at a prolific rate.

"The chances finally started going in," Connolly said in the Buffalo News. "For a while I think we were creating quite a few chances, but we weren't getting the bounces."

The Flyers will have Vanek in their crosshairs the most. They saw the damage he can do when he scored the game-winner in overtime of a 4-3 win Friday that clinched a playoff spot for Buffalo. The 27-year-old Austrian, who is 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, also had two assists. He leads the Sabres in points (73), goals (32), assists (41), power-play goals (11), and game-winning goals (five) in 80 games.

Lately, Vanek has shown a penchant for scoring big goals. Before his game-winner against the Flyers, he had a hat trick in a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay on April 5 in a game that had playoff implications for the Sabres. He was named the NHL's first star of the final week of the regular season.

Connolly moved to center on the top line when Derek Roy was lost for the season in late December when he suffered a torn quad tendon. At the time, Roy led Buffalo with 35 points in 35 games, including 10 goals.

It took a while for Connolly to pick up some of the slack left by Roy's injury, but he goes into the playoffs with 15 points (5-10) in the last 16 games. But he has gone 23 straight playoff games without a goal. Connolly is also an excellent penalty killer on a unit that has successfully shut down 48 of the last 52 power plays.

In his six seasons with Buffalo, Pominville has been one of the club's more consistent scorers, averaging 24 goals. He scored a hat trick in Game 2 of a first-round series against the Flyers in 2006. Later in the '06 playoffs, Pominville earned a place in NHL history when he became the first player to score a series-winning shorthanded goal in overtime against Ottawa. He had played in 335 consecutive games before he suffered a concussion Oct. 13 from a hit by Chicago's Niklas Hjalmarsson, who was suspended two games.

Flyers fans may remember Pominville as the player whose slap shot hit Ian Laperriere in the face early in the 2009-10 season.


Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com

 

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