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  Saturday, December 20, 2014
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Team Game
By Paul Noonan

     The saying has been around for a long time:  There is no ‘I’ in team.  Sure there’s a ‘me’ we all know that, but when you only look out for #1, that’s the only person who will likely succeed.  Looking out for #1 usually doesn’t bring you to a title.  Even in the new NHL, an NHL that was supposed to discourage teams from buying a title, that point still didn’t get across.  Yet for two of the teams that point was driven home.  And almost halfway through the playoffs, they are proving that one team is a lot better than many individuals.

             

     A few years ago Anaheim did this exact same thing.  They rode a hot goalie and strong work ethic all the way to game seven of the Stanley Cup finals.  Only a hotter goalie and equally as determined team in New Jersey was able to stop them.  Coming into this season not a whole lot was expected of Anaheim.  Sure they brought Temmu Selanne back, but he is past his prime.  Plus, he can’t be the same without Paul Kariya.  They brought in Norris Trophy winner Scott Neidermayer, but even a player as talented as he is can only bring a team so far.  After all, this is a Ducks team that had the second overall pick in the draft; they aren’t elite by any means.  However, none of this seemed to matter for the Ducks.  Thanks to a speedy maturity by a young crop of forwards (Getzlaf, Perry and Lupul) and the resurgence of JS Giguere to the form that carried the Ducks so far in 2003, the Ducks are poised for another Cinderella run.  Their young forwards are talented and hungry.  They are willing to play physical, and while their skill won’t blow you away, they have enough to finish when the time comes.  It’s not just the rookies who have found the scoring touch, but Andy McDonald and Temmu Selanne have become the new Kariya/Selanne.  McDonald had a good rookie season, but went into sophomore slump the next year.  This season though he has regained his old form, and has made a name as one of the better young playmakers in the game right now.  McDonald’s play has re- ignited Selanne’s as well, who has had his best season in a few years.  On defense, the Ducks are nothing to brag about, but they have been effective.  Neidermayer has been a great addition.  Neidermayer has been a key cog in the Ducks’ breakout, and while known more for his offense he is a reliable defender.  Finally, Giguere has returned to form, although an injury has kept him out of the lineup for most of the playoffs.  Luckily, back- up Ilya Bryzgalov has been just as stellar.  As of Monday night he has gone over three games without letting up a goal. 

             

     In Buffalo a lot of the same things are happening.  Last season, the Sabres were a mediocre team.  The Sabres were competitive, but they had a tough time sealing the deal, and in a strong Northeast Division that will lead to problems.  So after the lockout many expected the Sabres, who had some money to spare, to add a key guy or two to take them from mediocre to contender.  Well, while the Sabres added all- star Teppo Numminen, many felt that was not enough.  Maybe they should have paid attention to the crop of young guys this team has.  This team may have benefited most from the lockout as young guns such as F Thomas Vanek, F Derek Roy and G Ryan Miller, to name a few, have taken advantage of the extra year to develop and have been key contributors to this year’s team.  Like Anaheim, Buffalo wins mostly off hard work.  They are not the toughest team around, but they are tough enough (if you need proof take a look at Brian Campbell’s hit in the first round against Philly).  While they do not have a pure goal scorer, Roy, Vanek, Daniel Briere and BU product Chris Drury give the Sabres two lines which have the potential to score on most nights.  Roy has been the Sabres Andy McDonald.  After a pretty good rookie year, Roy started this season in the minors.  After an up and down trip or two, Roy finally solidified his spot and has thrived.  Both a scorer and playmaker, more of the latter, Roy has been a huge factor in the Sabres success.  As for Numminen, he brings a lot of what Neidermayer brings to Anaheim.  While maybe a little less potent on offense, Numminen is a force at both ends of the rink, and has been a key factor on the power play.  He is unselfish too as evidenced by the fact it took about 40 assists before he got his first goal.  Finally, the Sabres also boast a strong goaltending tandem.  Ryan Miller and Martin Biron alternated duties throughout the year, and both excelled.  Biron went on a 13-0 run while Miller recovered from an injury, but when Miller healed, he came back and gave the Sabres the same kind of reliability. 

             

     Many people predicted that the Stanley Cup Finals this year would be a match- up of Philadelphia and Calgary.  I’ll admit I predicted Calgary myself.  In the first round though, both teams were ousted, and it was Buffalo and Anaheim who did it.  At the time of this article, the two teams were also up two games to none in their respective series.  If you don’t think these two teams have a chance by now, you are naïve.  Each team has a good chance of making it to the conference finals at this point, and once they get there they might even be favored over their opposition.  While the old ways of buying talent have been eradicated a little by the salary cap, some teams still squeezed as much high priced talent in as they could.  However, maybe it’s time they look at Buffalo and Anaheim.  A young, hungry team is fully capable of beating any talent there is out there. 



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