Tonights game 5 between the Rangers and Sabres has the potential to be one of the best of these playoffs. No two teams have been more evenly matched through the second round. For the Rangers winning tonights game would mean playing for a series victory on home ice and avoiding a game 7 in Buffalo. Here are some things to look for from the Rangers tonight.
1) First 3 minutes...A crowd can be won or lost in the first 3 minutes of a hockey game. Prior to the opening faceoff fans are standing and screaming, chants are flying around the arena, the adrenaline is just kicking in. But there is a fragile balance to a fans enthusiasum. At this point Buffalo fans have to be nervous. Their beloved Sabres have just dropped 2 in a row to the #6 seed, and are thanking the lord for Ryan Miller who won game 2 on his own. Any early blow to the Sabres could be devastating for the crowd. Look for Renney to roll quick lines early and play a dump and chase where you can hear the boards rattle and the easiest shots look scary to a Sabre fan. Look for the Rangers to put the Sabres on their heels early by smothering the defense low and crashing the net simply to try and draw a penalty.
2) Avery vs. Afinogenov...I know, it doesn't exactly sound like DeLaHoya vs. Mayweather but look for this matchup. If nothing else Sabres coach Lindy Ruff is a motivator. The game 4 benching of #61 was meant to serve notice not just to Afinogenov but the whole Buffalo bench. The reverse to this tactic is, if Afinogenov flops so too will the Sabres. Look for Renney to call on Avery when # 61 is on the ice. Avery's persistance and annoying chatter could be just the thing that pushes Afinogenov overboard and completely out of this series. And as he pushes to get back in his coaches good graces, turnovers will lead to rushes and hopefully goals.
3) The return of Paul Gaustad... By most reports the ankle injury to Gaustad is healed enough that the doctors are giving him the go for game 5. The hulking LW was a huge part of the Sabres regular season and a crowd favorite. Whether or not he can be effective or is being used as boost for team morale is certainly a question worth tuning in for. Gaustad's injury was a a tendon that was severed between 80 and 90 percent. His speed may not be there, and he will definitly struggle with the pace of play in the playoffs. Look for Renney to exploit this by sending his speedsters like Matt Cullen and Jed Ortmeyer out against Gaustad. Hitting him early and often could take him right out of the game and kill the high the Sabres will get from his return.
4) STAY OUT OF THE BOX....Although the Rangers penalty killing has been great killing 24 of 27 Buffalo power plays, you get the feeling that soon the sleeping giant will wake up. The Sabres are too good of a team for the Rangers to depend on this current streak as the series winds down. Keeping emotions in check will most likely be the focus of the New York pre-game meeting tonight. Look for Renney to preach "play physical when you have to, otherwise skate with em, and stay in their lanes".