PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 01: Nikolai Zherdev #93 of the Philadelphia Flyers tangles with Nathan Gerbe #42 of the Buffalo Sabres on October 1 2010 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

NHL Playoffs 2011, Sabres Vs. Flyers: Chris Pronger Out For Philadelphia In Game 1

The Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers have been two different teams in the second half of the NHL season, but will any of that matter come playoff time? We preview the first round series between the clubs.

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Chris Pronger Out For Flyers In Game 1 Vs. Sabres

In order to win the Stanley Cup, the Philadelphia Flyers are going to need Chris Pronger in the lineup. As they begin that quest on Thursday night against the Buffalo Sabres, they'll have to get by without him.

Pronger, who has been out of the lineup for several weeks with an injured left hand, will not play in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Flyers announced after the morning skate.

He's still listed as day-to-day and could still return for Game 2 on Saturday, but he's yet to take heavy shots in practice and he's yet to skate in a full workout with his team. Once he can tee up a shot from the point without pain, he'll be good to go, but as of yet, that's not happened. 

A few other lineup changes for the Flyers: they're holding Nikolay Zherdev out of the lineup as a healthy scratch. Dan Carcillo will sit on the fourth line, while Andreas Nodl moves up to Zherdev's spot with Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux. With the addition of Carcillo, it's clear that the Flyers' game plan includes a healthy dose of physicality. 

For more on the Flyers, check in with Broad Street Hockey.

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Sabres Vs. Flyers, NHL Playoffs 2011: Teams Headed In Opposite Directions Clash In Round 1

The Philadelphia Flyers enter the 2011 NHL postseason as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Buffalo Sabres enter as the No. 7 seed. If you were to look at the teams since January 1, however, you'd notice two teams probably in the exact opposite positions. 

The Flyers have struggled down the stretch with inconsistent play and an apparent disinterest in the regular season schedule, while new owner Terry Pegula has seemingly brought an entirely new vibe with him to the organization. The Sabres went from the doldrums of the Eastern standings to a relatively comfortable qualifying position in just a few months.

These teams are going in opposite directions as the playoffs begin, but is that enough to get the Sabres over the hump and into the second round?

Goaltending

There's no secret that the Sabres have fantastic goaltending. Ryan Miller is as good as they get, even if he's had a bit of a low season this year. He's also been out of the lineup of late with one of those upper-body injuries, but he should be good to return for Game 1 on Thursday. Even if he can't go, Jhonas Enroth provides very capable play in the backup role.

Meanwhile, goaltending is still a question in Philadelphia, as always. Most people around the NHL have the idea that Sergei Bobrovsky has been a real issue lately for the Flyers, mostly because he was pulled twice in just the final stretch of the season. The reality is that Bob has been quite solid for the Flyers, and being pulled in Game 82 against the Islanders was not a true indication of how he played. 

Even if Bobrovsky does stumble in the playoffs, the Flyers have plenty of capable options in Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton. Surely, one of those players can provide good-enough goaltending in this series behind a rock hard defense, but are any of the options better than Ryan Miller?

Of course not. Edge: Sabres.

Forwards

Philly's forward depth is what makes them tick. They have six 20 goal scorers on the team this season, plus Kris Versteeg who split 21 goals between Philadelphia and Toronto. Oh, and Ville Leino sitting at 19 goals. And Nikolay Zherdev, who scored 16 goals in just 56 games.

The Flyers can score up and down the lineup unlike any other team in the Eastern Conference, and while the Sabres certainly have some skill and some scoring depth, it can be contained much easier than that of Philadelphia. Edge: Flyers

Defense

Neither team has completely healthy groups of defensemen, with Jordan Leopold out for the Sabres and Chris Pronger ailing for the Flyers. Pronger hopes to return for Game 1, while there's an outside chance that Leopold could return at some point in the first round. The Flyers are deeper on defense than the Sabres, especially if Pronger comes back.

He really is the X-factor here, not only on defense but in the entire series and in the Flyers' hopes to return to the Stanley Cup Finals. If he's in, the Flyers have a big edge. If he's not or he's not 100 percent, it's only a slight edge. Unfortunately for Buffalo, the Flyers' defense is still quite good after Pronger, with Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle leading the way. Edge: Flyers

Special Teams

Looking at the Flyers power play numbers, despite their insane offensive depth, you'd think that they'd have no hopes at winning a special teams battle. Matched up with Buffalo's middle-of-the-road power play and penalty kill units, though, special teams might not be a huge factor in this series.

Philadelphia's power play won't score many goals if they continue as they have for the entire season, but the Sabres shouldn't expect to score many on their own power play, considering the Flyers lead the league at preventing shots on the penalty kill. Edge: Push

Series Schedule

Game 1: Thu., April 14 at 7:30 p.m.
Game 2: Sat., April 16 at 5 p.m.
Game 3: Mon., April 18 at 7 p.m.
Game 4: Wed., April 20 at 7:30 p.m.
Game 5*: Fri., April 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Game 6*: Sun., April 24 at 3 p.m.
Game 7*: Tues., April 26 at TBD    

For more on the Flyers, check in with Broad Street Hockey. For the Buffalo perspective, check out Die By The Blade.

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