BUFFALO, N.Y. - After being bounced by the Boston Bruins in their first-round matchup last year, the Buffalo Sabres learned there's no guarantees come playoff time. That's why the team is focusing on what they need to do better this year against the Philadelphia Flyers in order to not have history repeat itself.
Last year's Northeast Division winners, the Sabres, seemed on the verge of cruising past the sixth-seeded Bruins after winning the first game. But when sniper Thomas Vanek went down in Game 2 with an injury, Boston began pushing Buffalo around.
The Sabres quickly wilted in losing four of the next five.
This year, they intend to shove back against the favoured Flyers.
"Maybe we got a little full of ourselves and didn't quite put in all the necessary work and all the details it takes to win," winger Mike Grier said about the early exit last spring. "Hopefully, we learned a little bit from that, and everyone realizes if you want to win this thing, you've got to give anything you have."
After a scintillating start to the season, the Sabres limped into their series with the Bruins before eventually crumbling. This year, Buffalo comes in with plenty of confidence thanks to a late-season surge.
"The pressure's a little different," goalie Ryan Miller said. "Last year, there was a lot higher expectations. We finished in third, and I think we were feeling it a little bit. This year, we've been playing playoff hockey long enough now, probably three months worth of it. I don't think we need to change anything. We don't have to get ramped up, get geared up. Last year, we almost had to flick a light switch because we weren't playing good hockey. That catches up to you because it's not the right energy and not the right way to enter a series."
The Bruins exploited Buffalo's penchant for playing along the perimeter last year, and also neutralized the Sabres' power play, which finished 0-for-19 in the series.
But the Sabres have become a grittier bunch this year led by unheralded forwards such as Cody McCormick (142 penalty minutes) and Paul Gaustad (101). And their power play finished ninth in the NHL, converting 19.4 per cent of its chances.
"The puck movement has been better, and we're throwing more stuff to the net and getting rewarded for it," winger Jason Pominville said. "Our power play is going to be very important."
The Sabres practised for about an hour on Tuesday, including injured defenceman Andrej Sekera. The four-year veteran missed the last two games because of an upper-body injury. But coach Lindy Ruff said that Sekera was able to successfully get through the workout.
Sekera finished with a career-high 29 points in 76 games this season.
Centre Tim Connolly also returned to the ice after taking the day off on Monday.