Chiarelli expects competitive series

There are few teams the Bruins had more success against in the regular season than the Buffalo Sabres.

Somehow Boston was able to get the better of the Northeast Division champions in four of six games, including one overtime victory. However, last season taught the Bruins how much regular-season victories mean when the playoffs start. Boston dominated Carolina in a four-game sweep during the regular season and finished atop the Eastern Conference, only to fall in seven games to the Hurricanes in the postseason.

So general manager Peter Chiarelli knows his team will have its hands full against the Sabres starting Thursday night.

“I see a team that has undergone a bit of a transformation over the last few years and they’ve added more speed up front, and you see that in their forecheck and their neutral-zone play,” said Chiarelli during a conference call. “Obviously, their goalie [Ryan Miller] is a terrific goalie. He’s very hard to beat. We’ve played them well. There’s a defensive element to their game too, that I think is inherent to (coach) Lindy’s (Ruff) system and the way (GM) Darcy (Regier) builds teams, that obviously we have -- not the same type of component -- but there’s an emphasis on our team on that also.

“From the matchup perspective, I think you’re going to see some tight defense, in addition to the fact that you’ve got two very good goalies. They’ll be hard games. They compete hard. They’ve got a goal-scorer in [Thomas] Vanek who seems to have found his mark in the last little bit. … They’ve got some pretty skilled forwards up front.

“If we can forecheck the way that we’re capable of doing, I think we’ll be in for a good series.”

While the Bruins might have a boost of confidence in their game because of their success against the Sabres over the course of the season, they might also benefit from what’s essentially been a playoff atmosphere for the better part of the last month. The Bruins didn’t clinch their playoff spot until the next-to-last game of the year and at times were in a precarious position as far as the standings.

“It makes you more battle-tested. That’ll help,” said the GM, whose team has now qualified for the playoffs three straight years. “It’s already on our minds. You worry a little bit about using energy in that stretch, but at that point you just want to get in. So you like the efforts of the players in that stretch and I think it just makes you more mentally focused going into the playoffs.”

* Injury updates: While Chiarelli said there’s a chance Andrew Ference (groin/hernia) might return to action this series, he said that Marc Savard, Mark Stuart and Dennis Seidenberg will “probably not” have a chance of becoming available to the Bruins