VGNHL Eastern Conference Preview - Round 3
Welcome everyone to round 3 of VGNHL’s 24th season. 16 teams enter the postseason, and after two weeks of postseason play, we are down to 4 teams, with of course just 2 left remaining in the Eastern Conference. In this article, we will be covering not just the final battle for the best team in the Atlantic, but the battle to determine the best team in the Eastern Conference, and one half of the finalists for Season 24. After pulling off yet another statistical upset, and eliminating another team from the Metro in the Islanders, the Toronto Maple Leafs have now found themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals. After winning 4 in a row to take the series in 6 games, the Leafs now look to continue their hot streak in the Conference Finals. And they’re going to need to keep the hot streak going, as they will face off against their division rivals from just across the Niagara, the Presidents Trophy winning Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have dominated the 5th and 2nd seeded teams in their division in the playoffs already, beating both the Panthers and Habs in 5 games. They will now try to extend that list of Atlantic victims to 3, as they look to take out the Leafs to give themselves a chance to hoist the cup next week. So, without further ado, let’s get right into the Eastern Conference Finals preview.
Buffalo Sabres (53-4-3) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (38-18-4)
Goals for per game: 5.33 vs 4.33
Goals against per game: 2.23 vs 2.93
Head to Head:
Buffalo 2 - 1 Toronto
Toronto 3 - 4 Buffalo
Toronto 3 - 2 Buffalo
Buffalo 7 - 1 Toronto
Season Series: 3-1 in favor of Buffalo
The Buffalo Sabres dominated the season series against Toronto, after beating the Leafs both times within the first 2 weeks of the season, and then dominating the Leafs in a huge 7-1 blowout in the last matchup of the season. The Leafs can still take a little bit of confidence from regular season results, as they did manage to pull off 1 victory over the Sabres in game 3 of the season series. That’s probably just as much confidence as they can garner from regular season stats though, as the Sabres have the advantage in both goals for per game and goals against per game. The Sabres score about a whole goal more per game than the Leafs with 5.33 compared to 4.33. The Sabres also allow less goals per game, albeit slightly, compared to the Leafs as well, allowing just 2.23 goals per game compared to the Leafs 2.93. Buffalo has the advantage in both the season series and just overall season success, but the Leafs have already pulled off 2 upsets based on seeding already. So I don’t think they’re going to be intimidated by anything the Sabres have done so far, as everything resets in the postseason. All the marbles are down, and it’s a winner take all this week at an even slate.
The Sabres got here by way of another dismantling, this time dismantling the Montreal Canadiens in just 5 games. The Sabres started off the series on the wrong foot, dropping game 1 3-1 to the Habs. That was the only blip in their radar however, as they won the next 4 straight games, and won by 2 or more goals in every game. After winning game 2 and 3 by scores of 3-1 and 5-1, the Habs fought back valiantly in a 4-2 loss in game 4. While the Sabres may have had the “worst lead in hockey”, it’s still a better spot to be in than being down 3-1. The Sabres didn’t even flinch at the cursed series lead, as they took game 5 handily 6-1, and sent the Habs back to Montreal to start their vacations. CapsFan was dominant in the series clincher, scoring 2 goals and adding 2 assists to help his team close out Montreal. CapsFan and Sugar_Saleh both went undefeated in the series, both going 4-0 with 14 and 12 points respectively. NateJones was the 3rd member of the forward core, as he went 3-1 with 6 points on the series. Vito and Cxshy were the main d-pair of the series, playing games 3, 4 and 5 together, helping Buffalo only allow a total of 4 goals in the 3 games. Cxshy led all defenders on the team with 5 points in the series, while Vito contributed with 3 assists. Parky was as solid as usual, going 3-1 with a .854 SV$ and 1.75 GAA, while Cujo allowed just 1 goal in game 3, stopping 8 of 9 shots.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, just like their opponents in round 3, also dropped game 1 in round 2. In fact, the Leafs actually got dominated in both games 1 and 2 by the Islanders, and quickly found themselves on the backfoot trailing in the series down 2-0 by losing 7-4 and 6-2. It took some perseverance and some guts for the Leafs to dig themselves out of a hole, but that embarrassing 6-2 loss was the last loss they had in the round, as they took the next 4 straight games in the series. The Leafs offense came to life in the last 4 games of the series, scoring 6 goals in games 3 and 4, and 8 in the series clinching game 6. The only relatively close win for the Leafs was in game 5, beating the Islanders 4-2 to take their first lead in the series. They didn’t want to test their luck with the game 7 curse of Leafs franchises though, as they obliterated the Islanders 8-2 to book themselves a spot in the Eastern Conference finals. Every forward came to life in the series clincher, as Hypey put up 2 goals and 3 assists, Jags had a goal and 5 assists, and Kiriranta was outstanding with 5 goals and 2 assists. Banana and Crowe both pitched in with 2 assists each, while Konzy stopped 6 of 8 shots from the Islanders. In the series, it was Hypey and Jags who led the way, with 20 and 15 points respectively, each playing all 6 games. Kiviranta was the “hidden weapon”, going a perfect 3-0 in the series with 11 goals and 3 assists. Crowe and Bxnana were the main d-pair for the Leafs, playing the last 3 games of the series together, helping the Leafs allow just 8 goals in the 3 games they were together, but just 2 per game in the last 2. Crowe led all defenders on the team in both goals and assists, with 2 goals and 7 assists, while Bxnana had 3 assists in 3 games he played. Konzy went vintage Konzy in round 2, as he went a perfect 4-0 with a .804 SV% and a 2.50 GAA.
As said before, it is the Sabres who came away from the regular season with the season series lead over the Leafs. In the first 2 games that were both within the first 2 weeks of the season, the Sabres took both games by scores of 2-1 and 4-3. Capitalsfan just played the first game, but contributed on both goals with 2 assists, while Vito and Sugar both had a goal each. Parky had a strong performance, stopping 16 of 17 shots in the game. Jags19 managed the only goal for the Leafs while Hypey had an assist. In game 2, Hypey, Jags, Budz and Huhktt tried to get revenge, but the Sabres stopped them again, this time in overtime. NateJones had a hat trick for the Sabres, while Saleh had a goal and 2 assists. Hypey had 2 goals in the effort, while Jags had a goal and 2 assists, but they left Buffalo on that night still searching for their first win against the team. That finally came for them in the 2nd last week of the season, as Toronto took their first victory over the Sabres in another overtime game, but this time going 3-2 in favor of Toronto. The Leafs pretty much threw all but 1 of their starters in the game, while the Sabres were probably missing about 2. Jags led the Leafs with a goal and 2 assists, while Hypey had a goal and an assist. Kiviranta, Bxnana and Budz all also tallied an assist in the game, while Konzy stopped 23 of 25 shots. The Sabres got the last laugh before the postseason reached though, as they blew out the Leafs 7-1 in the last meeting of the season. CapsFan was excellent in the game with 4 goals and 3 assists, while Saleh had 2 goals and 4 assists themselves in the huge blowout victory. While the Sabres have the 3-1 series lead, the Leafs did pull off a victory with a lot of the playoff starters in the game. But, the Sabres still weren’t at full strength in that game 3, so a full 6 on 6 between the best 6 of the two teams has not happened yet. This series could come down to strategy between the managers, or it could come down to one player pulling their team over the line. Whichever that may be, someone has to step up, but I do expect (and hope) this will be a close series, to decide the best team in the Eastern Conference. Ultimately, the Sabres have shown they have been the best all season, and I don’t think I can vote against that now. But, the Leafs have already taken out 2 teams ahead of them in the standings, so why not make it a 3rd.
Prod’s Prediction: Sabres in 7
And there you have it folks, your round 3 Eastern Conference preview. I was correct last week in my Eastern Conference prediction in terms of who would be here, so will I be correct again? The Sabres sure hope so, except, maybe not in that close of a series. However, Hypey and the Leafs have already made me eat my words once in the postseason all the way back in round 1, so there’s no reason why they can’t do that again. This team is deterred by nothing, especially after going down quickly to the Islanders and in such dominant fashion. Regardless of what happens, they will bring their A game. So good luck to both teams, and may the best team win.