How they match up

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

The Senators face a bigger challenge in Round 2 against the Buffalo Sabres than they did when they disposed of the Tampa Bay Lightning in their playoff-opening series.

EASTERN CONFERENCE semi-finals best-of-seven series

While the Senators were able to finish off the Lightning in five games -- just as our unnamed Eastern Conference executive predicted -- he's not willing to call this one a Senators romp.

"I really think this might be the toughest test that the Senators face in these playoffs," said the executive yesterday. "If they get by these guys, I'm not even sure New Jersey or Carolina would be as tough for Ottawa. This really should be a great series."

With those thoughts in mind, here's a position-by-position breakdown, with help from our executive, on how this series could shake down:

Forwards:

Down the middle, the Sabres certainly have depth. Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and Tim Connolly are all very good centres, but there's just one problem, according to our executive: "They are all the same player," he said. "Each of the guys on the Senators -- Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher and Bryan Smolinski -- brings something different to the table. They need more production from Smolinski, especially if he's playing with Daniel Alfredsson, but the Senators have better forwards. I don't think there's any question." The return of

Martin Havlat from shoulder surgery has helped make the front lines -- with Dany Heatley, Patrick Eaves, Antoine Vermette, Alfredsson and Spezza -- even stronger. "The Senators and Sabres can both roll three lines, but Ottawa has more offensive guns," said the executive.

EDGE: Ottawa

Defence:

This is where the Senators blow the Sabres away. But Buffalo plays a disciplined system and doesn't give up many chances. The names on the Sabres' blue line -- Brian Campbell, Jay McKee, Toni Lydman, Henrik Tallinder, Dmitri Kalinin and Teppo Numminen -- don't scare anyone. The Sens' corps of Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara, Chris Phillips (if he's healthy), Anton

Volchenkov, Andrej Meszaros and Brian Pothier (another question mark) is considered the best in the NHL. "These guys move the puck and they get involved in the offence," said the executive. "The Sabres don't give up many scoring chances with the guys they've got, but they're not nearly as dangerous as the players on the Ottawa blue line. The Senators have changed their style and they give up scoring chances because they gamble, but you can't criticize them. This area is really no contest." Campbell had a memorable hit on R.J. Umberger of the Flyers, but it will be Chara who is expected to leave an impression in this series.

EDGE: Ottawa

Goalies:

It will be Ray Emery vs. Ryan Miller. Two rookie goalies facing each in the second round of the playoffs or later for the first time since Montreal's Patrick Roy and Calgary's Mike Vernon met in the 1986 finals. That means the pressure is going to be on both players to make big stops. But the executive points out that the Sabres might have an edge in this area: "I know that Emery played well in the first round and he answered a lot of questions. So did Miller. I like Buffalo here because (coach) Lindy Ruff is going to have options. If anybody in Buffalo gets lit up, then Ruff can always go to Martin Biron. (Senators coach) Bryan Murray doesn't have that option: It's Ray Emery or bust. I know Emery is the big hero in Ottawa and that's what the playoffs are all about. You have a hero born every minute. The Senators don't have anybody to fall back on and that can be dangerous in the playoffs."

EDGE: Sabres.

Coaches:

Murray and Ruff have a long relationship from their days with the Florida Panthers. Ruff is a candidate for coach-of-the-year honours and Murray could have been one. The Sabres have bought into the program that Ruff is selling and the Senators like the approach Murray has brought to the dressing room. Both have gotten the most out of their players. These are the fastest two teams in the league and the rules have helped both. One area where Ruff and Murray differ is in matching lines. Murray isn't going to bother. He wants his better players on the ice as much as possible. "I don't really think there's much of a difference between these two guys," said the executive.

EDGE: Even.

PICK TO CLICK: Ottawa in seven.


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