When scouting the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators position by position, one thing becomes perfectly clear.
This has all the makings of a long, tight series.
In every aspect of their respective games, I find them even. This has nothing to do with sitting on the fence and everything to do with a pair of talented elite teams that have little to separate them.
Buffalo has more depth up front; Ottawa's top line is one of the best in the league.
Buffalo's defence moves the puck better; Ottawa's blue line is more physical.
So why am I picking Ottawa in seven?
While home ice should help the Sabres, I just think Ottawa has faced more adversity, particularly in the first half of the season, and has grown stronger all year. I also feel they have learned from their playoff loss to the Sabres a year ago.
It has the makings to be a classic. It could go either way. Just remember: The Sens likely will have the support of an entire country in the role as Canada's team.
The Sabres have so many scoring threats up front, it's difficult to just zero in on one or two guys. Their depth is outstanding to the extent that all four lines can score. Their transition game is terrific, especially on offence. And let's not forget about Chris Drury, who has a knack for coming through with huge goals. Just ask the Rangers, who saw Drury tie Game 5 of their second-round series with just seconds left in regulation.
As for the Sens, their top line of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley is exceptional. Ottawa does not have the same depth as Buffalo but they might just have a few more game-breaking threats.
The Sabres' back end collectively has good puck-moving skills, thereby allowing their forwards to spring into offence. While there is good balance on the Buffalo blue line, they are not a very physical bunch.
The Sens' defencemen, on the other hand, like to throw their bodies around much more than the Sabres. At the same time, they probably don't move the puck as well as Brian Campbell and the rest of the Buffalo defence.
Ryan Miller is an exceptional playoff goalie with playoff experience. Ray Emery, meanwhile, has played well in the post-season and has gained confidence as his team goes deeper and deeper into the playoffs.
Both teams have exceptionally talented players who can flash their skills and score at any time in the game on the power play. As for the penalty kill, these are two of the best shot-blocking teams in the league. And, as the old adage goes, your goaltender is the best penalty killer on the ice. Both teams have good ones. I think the key on penalty kills will be whichever team manages to dominate in the faceoff circle.
Here you have two veteran guys in Lindy Ruff and Bryan Murray who have been through the playoff wars before. They have practically been through every situation the sport could throw at them.
History dictates that this will be a competitive series, judging by their past meetings. Emotions will be running high, especially in lieu of the Chris Neil hit on Drury earlier this season which sparked a brawl.
But thoughts of gaining revenge will be tempered by fears of taking bad penalties or having players suspended.
Keenan's Pick: Sens in 7