Boucher, special teams key Flyers’ 4-2 win over Sabres

By David Strehle
NHL H
ot Stove NHL / Philadelphia Flyers Correspondent

Philadelphia Flyers’ head coach Peter Laviolette made Brian Boucher his game three starting goaltender against the Buffalo Sabres, and it appears to have been the correct decision.

Boucher had once again proven his worth to the coach with his performance in relief of Sergei Bobrovsky in game two, sparking a Philadelphia rally in a 5-4 victory.  Laviolette felt that Boucher deserved the game three start after his game two heroics.

Monday night, Boucher turned aside 35 of 37 Buffalo shots, and the Flyers penalty killers snuffed out a third period two-man advantage that lasted 1:16 while the Orange-and-Black were nursing a one-goal lead, as Philadelphia held on for a 4-2 victory.

In the process, the Flyers wrestled home-ice advantage away from Buffalo, which they had lost with a game one 1-0 defeat at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 34-year-old Boucher was in a most hostile environment at HSBC Arena, but the taunting “Boo-Shay” chants by the Sabres faithful didn’t bother him whatsoever.

The Rhode Island-native outplayed Ryan Miller, who stopped 22 out of 25 Philadelphia shots.

The Flyers special teams also came up with critical efforts, as they ended the night 1-3 on the power play, and killed off five of six Buffalo man advantages.

Jeff Carter opened the scoring, ripping a shot past Miller’s blocker and inside the far side post for a power play goal with Patrick Kaleta in the penalty box.  It was Carter’s first point of the series, and was a much-needed goal for the beleaguered power play unit.

The lead didn’t last very long, though, as Buffalo got one back with a man advantage of their own.

After a couple of turnovers in the defensive zone led to extended Sabres’ offensive pressure, the momentum of the game swung completely in Buffalo’s favor.

With Flyers’ defenseman Braydon Coburn off, for interference, Drew Stafford was able to get a shot through Boucher and a nice screen by expert crease-disturbed Tomas Vanek.

Scott Hartnell took a double minor late in the period, giving the Sabres a four-minute power play.

Buffalo outshot Philadelphia by a 16-6 count in the first, but Boucher kept his calm and kept his team in the game.

Early in the second period, Hartnell took the puck away from Sabres’ defenseman Tyler Myers at the side of the net and flipped the puck to a wide-open Danny Briere in the slot.  With Miller still sprawled on the ice, Briere potted the goal against his ex-teammates.  Briere went into his standard exaggerated fist pump celebration before many in the crowd knew what had happened.

The 2-1 lead was extended into a two-goal lead late in the second.

Kris Versteeg battled hard for the puck along the offensive zone right wing boards, took control of it and fed a perfect cross-ice pass to Mike Richards.  The captain spotted Nikolay Zherdev – inserted into the lineup to replace Andreas Nodl – at Miller’s left, and the 26-year-old Ukrainian made no mistake in giving Philadelphia a 3-1 lead with 3:16 left in the middle stanza.

Boucher made his only real mistake of the night in giving up a juicy rebound off of a Tim Connolly shot, pushing it out right to Nathan Gerbe at the left faceoff circle.  The five-foot, five-inch Gerbe picked the top corner over Boucher’s glove with 1:48 remaining in the second, and Philadelphia’s two-goal lead was just one at 3-2 heading into the third period.

A key moment in the game – and possibly the series – came with about 14 minutes left in regulation time.

With Zherdev already off for a questionable slashing call, Darroll Powe took a horrible charging penalty as he drilled Marc-Andre Gragnani into the Sabres’ goal.  Buffalo would have a two-man advantage for 1:16 with 13:01 left in the third.

The penalty-killers came up with a titanic effort.  Coburn blocked a shot and cleared the puck the length of the ice, and Boucher made a stop on Tyler Ennis with his mask.

With the lead on the line, it was the Flyers’ crucial determination that was so prevalent in last year’s playoff run, but has been lacking from the club’s game for some time this season.

Finally in the waning moments, Claude Giroux was able to get the puck to Kimmo Timonen up the left wing, and the defenseman buried the puck into the empty net from center ice with just 17.8 seconds left and Miller pulled in favor of an extra attacker.

For a team in need of a galvanizing moment to their lackluster late-season performance, the goaltending shuffle just may prove to supply such an important emotional lift.  The club had been sleep-walking for the last six to eight weeks of the regular season, and something needed to occur oto bring them out of their slumber.

And it appears that number 33 may just have done that.

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Taking a Flyer:  Coburn and Timonen were each a +3 on the night…Buffalo’s Kaleta left the game with an upper body injury after attempting to hit Coburn in the first period…The surprise part of the goaltending equation was that Bobrovsky was sent to the press box, and was replaced by Michael Leighton - who spent the season in the AHL with the Adirondack Phantoms – as Boucher’s backup.  The move gives the Flyers the same tandem of Boucher-Leighton as they had in last year’s march to the Stanley Cup Finals…With only 8:14 of ice time, Zherdev took Star of the Game honors…Blair Betts, who had an excellent winning percentage on faceoffs for much of the regular season, won just five of 17 on the night…Richards’ assist on Zherdev’s goal was his first point of the series.  Who would have thought that Philadelphia would hold a 2-1 series lead with Carter and Richards each not recording their first points until game three?

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If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle