(4) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (5) Buffalo Sabres
The Flyers were entering this year's playoffs still trying to forget the Eastern Conference finals the previous year. In 2000 they had a 3–1 series lead against the eventual Cup champs Devils, but lost the next three. Coach Craig Ramsay was fired in the middle of the season, GM Bob Clarke exclaimed his decision was based on the fact that his Flyers were not "tough enough". He hired ex- Flyer tough guy and former teammate Bill Barber. The Sabres season was not as complicated, Lindy Ruff led his Sabres to one of their best regular seasons in recent history. In the playoffs, the two teams had met three times in four years, with the most recent series ending in with a Flyers win. The Sabres would look for revenge in the city of brotherly love.
After Philadelphia got stopped by Dominik Hasek and the Sabres in the first two games, one of which was ended by a Jay McKee overtime goal, the Flyers came out in game three determined to win a game before losing the first three, and they did by one goal, but they lost again to the Sabres in game four in overtime, after Curtis Brown banged the puck past goalie Roman Cechmanek. The Flyers prevailed in game five by a two-goal margin, but they were hammered by the Sabres in game six: they gave up a total of eight goals, five of which were surrendered by Cechmanek who was replaced early by Brian Boucher, but Boucher didn't make a difference as he gave up three goals, too. Dominik Hasek notched another shutout performance in game six, and the Sabres moved on to the conference semifinals.
(5) Buffalo Sabres vs. (6) Pittsburgh Penguins
Entering the series, Buffalo held the best penalty killing (PK) squad which killed 88%, and Pittsburgh entered the series with the fifth best powerplay (PP) squad, which scored on 20% of its opportunities. However, the Buffalo PK and the Pittsburgh PP would underachieve during the series: Pittsburgh only scored 4 times on 27 opportunities (14%), so, consequently, Buffalo's PK percent dropped to 86. Buffalo also scored four power play goals, but on 33 chances (12%).
The Sabres and Penguins had evenly matched goaltending: Pittsburgh goaltenders saved 155 shots out of 172 (90.2%), and Buffalo's saved 166 shots out of 183 (90.8%). Both teams scored 17 goals during the series, and they also scored the same number of power play goals, four.
The Sabres just couldn't put the puck past Johan Hedberg in game one, and the Penguins only needed star center Lemieux's first-period goal to finish off Buffalo and take an early series lead. Buffalo goalkeeper Dominik Hasek gave up three goals, the other two of which came courtesy of centers Wayne Primeau and Jan Hrdina in the second half of the third period. Penguins winger Jaromir Jagr, who assisted on the Lemieux goal in the first period, injured his leg in the third period and would miss game two. Both teams were rather inept on the powerplay, wasting five conversion opportunities each.
In game two, the first period had no scoring, despite five different powerplays for the two teams. Then, about halfway through the second period, Penguins center Robert Lang scored a goal to give the Penguins a one goal to zero advantage, but the advantage would only last about three minutes until Sabres center Stu Barnes tied the game up with the only powerplay goal of the game. Pittsburgh would turn on the jets and fly away from the Sabres though, scoring two more goals in the third period, one by defenceman Ference and an empty-net goal by Kovalev. Buffalo gave up two consecutive home games to the Penguins and now had to travel to Pittsburgh for game three.
For the second consecutive game, there were no goals scored in the first period of game three, even though there were 17 combined shots on goal. The Penguins scored on the power play in the second period to take the lead. Sabres center Curtis Brown would tie the game up, though, with an even-strength goal, and the period would end at a one goal tie. Hedberg had been solid in the net for the Penguins, but the third period features three goals against him out of 11 shots. At about the halfway point in the third period, Sabres defenceman Jason Woolley scored the untying goal, and three minutes later, Miroslav Satan would score another goal to give Buffalo a two goal lead. Defenceman James Patrick finished off the game with an empty-net goal, and the Sabres won the game four goals to one. Buffalo came through to win a tough road game where a loss might have secured a series loss.
Building off the road win in game three, Buffalo scored the first goal in game four very early in the first period by center Jean-Pierre Dumont, but the Penguins would respond with a powerplay goal by center Martin Straka. Sabres center Curtis Brown scored a short-handed goal late in the first period to give Buffalo the edge heading into the locker rooms. The second period featured only one goal by Janne Laukkanen, set up by Jagr and Lemieux, and the game was tied up going into the third. Stu Barnes scored twice in the third period, and the Sabres went on to win the game by three, five goals to two. Both teams were effective on the powerplay, each scoring one goal on two chances. Coming off two straight home losses, Buffalo works hard on the road to swipe the two home games back, swinging the series back to Buffalo's advantage.
Penguins wingman Jaromir Jagr initiated the scoring in game five with a powerplay goal, the only goal in the first period. Pittsburgh would tack on another goal early on in the second period by winger Aleksey Morozov, but Sabres center Chris Gratton would respond with a powerplay goal, and the Penguins still had the lead until they gave up another short-handed goal to Curtis Brown. Curtis Brown's goal forced overtime, and Stu Barnes would score the game-winning goal to give Buffalo the series lead. The Sabres were down by two goals early but fought back and won the game by scoring three unanswered goals. Game five was the first overtime game in the string of three that would end the series.
Buffalo's right winger Maxim Afinogenov scored in the first half of the first period of game six to give the Sabres and early lead, a lead the team would need because Pittsburgh's Alexei Kovalev tied the game up early in the second period. Donald Audette would break up the tied game with an even-strength goal late in the second period. Pittsburgh would persevere and score the tying goal with less than a minute to go in the third period courtesy of Mario Lemieux, so this match headed to overtime. Martin Straka was the hero of the Penguins on that night, as he scored the game-winning goal about halfway through the overtime period. Both teams didn't score on any of the combined seven chances they saw, and the fabled game seven was due.
In game seven, the first period was an uneventful one, featuring no goals and few penalties, but the second period was a different story. Buffalo struck first as Jean-Pierre Dumont scored very early in the period, but that one-goal lead wouldn't last because Andrew Ference scored a powerplay goal to even things up at one goal apiece. Just about 30 seconds into the third period, Buffalo struck again as winger Steve Heinze scored a powerplay goal. Robert Lang would score to tie the game up at two goals apiece, so it was on to overtime in game seven. Penguins defenceman Darius Kasparaitis would win the game and the series for the Penguins as he scored off of passes from Jagr and Lang. Pittsburgh would be facing the New Jersey Devils in the conference finals, but they relished the victory on the ice.