Miller, Sabres Buffaloed by Flyers game seven stampede
The Philadelphia Flyers brought a stampede of goals to the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night as they soundly defeated the Sabres, 5-2, in game seven to take their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, 4-3.
Head coach Peter Laviolette had stressed many times down the team’s stretch run that the most important thing was to win home ice advantage - especially for the purpose of game sevens.
It was very evident why on Tuesday night, as the home crowd was deafening.
“Loud,” Mike Richards said when asked about the Flyers’ faithful. “It was exciting in there. I think right when you walked out there you had goosebumps just listening to them. That’s why we play the whole season for, is that home crowd behind you in game seven.”
In an otherwise even series - in which every game ended in a one-goal decision – with the exception of game three, which Kimmo Timonen scored an empty-netter – Philadelphia scored the game’s first four goals.
Goals by Braydon Coburn, Danny Briere, James van Riemsdyk, Ville Leino, and Dan Carcillo led a ferocious Philadelphia attack that chased the Sabres’ Ryan Miller for the first time in his NHL postseason career.
The series had been all about goaltending coming into the night, and the fact that one team (Buffalo) had an elite back stop, and the other (Philadelphia) did not. Philadelphia had handicapped their games with multiple weak goals allowed by their netminders, so it was surprising that Buffalo’s Miller would be the first to blink and yield a goal of the “soft” variety.
With the ice tilted towards the Buffalo end and after stopping all 15 Flyers’ shots, Miller let a Coburn offering trickle through the five-hole with just 18.5 ticks left on the clock in the opening period.
The goal provided some sort of relief for Philadelphia. After dominating a period so soundly, it would have been frustrating to go to the locker room scoreless.
“It was nice to go in with the lead,” Richards said. “After you played so well you have something to show for it.”
The 16-2 count in first period shots was a good indication of the level of play, as it was the best the Flyers looked in the entire series.
“From start to finish we dominated the shots, chances, and stuff like that and played like we are capable of,” said van Riemsdyk, who scored his fourth goal of the series in the second period. It turned out to be the game-winner. The 21-year-old left winger recorded five shots tonight and a total of 43 in the series, which leads all playoff players.
Defenseman Chris Pronger, the anchor club’s blue liner, saw 17:27 of ice time, taking a regular shift for the first time in the series after returning in game six from a hand injury.
“For a guy to jump in the way he did after not playing for so many games and play the way he did tonight, again is another calming influence on the game,” Laviolette said after the game. ”His body, his presence, his passes, and his defense are certainly an advantage to us.”
When Pronger was asked about the team’s ability to finally control a game in the series, he explained why that was the case. “I think it was just the magnitude of the game and what was at stake,” he said. “I think we all understood that it was game seven in our building.”
Goaltender Brian Boucher stopped 26 of the 28 Buffalo shots in giving the Flyers the solid start they so deperately needed.
“He was great,” said center Claude Giroux. “He shut down the door for us, and that’s what we needed. He was of the best players tonight for sure.”
Leino’s goal 1:39 into the third gave Philadelphia a 4-0 lead, and Sabres’ coach Lindy Ruff did something he has never had to do to Miller. The longest-tenured NHL bench boss gave him the hook, bringing in Jhonas Enroth to close out the game.
“To be honest with you, I felt like they were conceding the victory,” Boucher said after the game. ”Not to take anything away from Enroth but to me, Ryan Miller is their key piece. He battled hard but they did score two goals after the goalie change, so I guess you can’t argue that move by their coach.”
Briere finished with a team-high six goals against his former team. When asked if the win was more special because it came against Buffalo, Briere was reflective.
“You know what, honestly it was probably one of the toughest series I’ve had to go through,” he said. “Knowing you are facing a lot of friends, and you are going like that. It’s no secret, in the playoffs there are no friends. You are out there and it doesn’t matter who has the puck, you are going through them. Honestly that was one of the toughest things to do.”
Briere also beat Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad on two offensive zone faceoffs to start scoring plays, showing even more value than just putting the puck in the net.
“Yeah I guess they were key, especially the one I had at the end of the first period,” Briere said of his draw that led to the Coburn goal. “I thought that was a huge momentum swing getting a goal. We had peppered Ryan Miller most of the first period. We barely let them come into our zone. It was still 0-0 at that point. To get a little deflection; to see the puck go in was a huge relief and also a huge momentum swing coming back into the room.”
Philadelphia’s much-maligned power play ended the night 2-4, and Giroux explained why they were able to have success. “I think we just kept it simple and went to the net, got pucks to the net with traffic. ”
The man advantage unit, which had been 2-26 in the first five contests of the series, went 3-9 in games six and seven. And it was not lost on Briere that the power play’s resurgence coincided with Pronger’s return to the lineup.
“I think he (Pronger) helped us settle down,” Briere explained. “It was also something that we started talking about after game five. We realized that we were forcing too many plays instead of controlling the puck and taking the shots.”
During the team’s hand shake at the series conclusion, Boucher and Miller had a brief conversation. “I said great series and if it wasn’t for him I don’t know if it would have been a series,” Boucher said afterwards. “He was fantastic.”
Miller was fantastic, and probably was the major reason for the Sabres that the series extended to a seventh game.
But the series may have truly been won on Easter Sunday. The Sabres held leads of 2-0 and 3-1 early, and 4-3 in the third period with the chance to eliminate the Flyers in game six. Their inability to do so looked to take a toll on the team, especially with their flat start to begin game seven.
“I think it just boils down to the heart and character in the room and guys understanding that you have to have a ‘never say quit’ attitude,” Pronger said about Philadelphia’s gutty comeback to take the series. “From the drop of the puck until the end buzzer you have to be prepared to sacrifice and we were able to do that tonight and we were able to win the game.”
The Flyers will have to await the outcome of two other game sevens tonight, as their second round opponent is dependant upon which teams pull through.
With the Washington Capitals already having dipsoed of the New York Rangers in five games, if the Montreal Canadiens beat the Boston Bruiins, Philadelphia will play the winner of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Tampa Bay Lightning series.
If the Bruins are triumphant over Les Habitants, the Flyers will play Boston for the second-consecutive year.
The bottom line is that whichever team comes knocking, the Flyers will open at home in the next round. And Tuesday night they showed just why home ice is such valuable weapon.
Taking a Flyer: Buffalo’s Derek Roy played in his first game in four months. After tearing his quadricep tendon just prior to Christmas, it was thought Roy would miss the remainder of the season. He had a great scoring chance on an early-second period Sabres’ power play, and finished with 20:01 of ice time…The Flyers are now 9-6 in seventh games and 6-3 when they are played at home. They have won three consecutive seventh games dating back to the 2008 postseason…This is just the third time the Flyers have ever won a series that they trailed 3-2 after five games. The others were the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals against Boston and the 1989 Patrick Division Finals against Pittsburgh…Briere’s six goals are the most for a Flyer in a playoff series since R.J. Umberger scored eight in the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals against Montreal. Briere now has 94 points (41-53-94) in 93 career playoff games.
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