Zherdev goes from waiver wire to playoff hero

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

The Philadelphia Flyers have had some timely contributions from several players in the first three games of their first round series with the Buffalo Sabres, which they now lead 2-1 after last night’s 4-2 victory.

While the goaltending situation and Chris Pronger’s ailing hand have been dominating the headlines, the forward ranks have had their share of players step up with big plays at opportune times.

Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk had been Philadelphia’s best skaters in the opening two contests, but last night’s hero was as unlikely as they come.

Nikolay Zherdev, a frequent healthy scratch who was actually waived by the club in late-February, was inserted into the lineup in place of Andreas Nodl and came through with an excellent effort in game three.  The talented winger scored the game-winning goal, and was named First Star in the Three Star selections.

Not a bad result for his first playoff game while wearing the Orange-and-Black.  He score the game-winner, but he also picked up three shots on goal and recorded two hits - and all in just 8:14 of ice time.

The fact that no other team plucked Zherdev off the waiver wire could turn out to  be one of the biggest blessings for the Flyers this year.

It speaks volumes to the depth of Philadelphia’s forward ranks that Zherdev has sat as often as he has, but it also could work in their favor that the 26-year-old native of the Ukraine is so fresh at this time of the year.

The way he jumped into an open spot in front of Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller last night set up a two-on-one situation with Mike Richards and Steve Montador back as the lone defender between the two.  When Kris Versteeg whipped a perfect pass from along the right wing boards right onto the tape of Richards’ stick at the left faceoff circle, Montador moved out to take the Flyers’ captain in anticipation of a shot.

Richards saw Zherdev to Miller’s left and sent a perfect pass across, which Zherdev promptly deposited behind the Sabres’ netminder to give Philadelphia a 3-1 lead.

The goal was reminiscent of a goal that Zherdev netted back on April 3rd against the New York Rangers.

On that day, Philadelphia blue liner Andrej Meszaros had taken a point shot that hobbled New York’s Ryan McDonagh, and the defenseman was having extreme difficulty getting to the bench for a change.

As the Flyers regained possession of the puck. Zherdev noticed the opportunity the absence of McDonagh or a replacement had left in front of Henrik Lundqvist.  Giroux handled the puck along the left wing wall and spotted Zherdev darting to the front of the Rangers’ net.  Giroux hit him with a tape-to-tape pass, and Zherdev beat Lundqvist.

Just like last night’s marker, that was also a critical tally for Philadelphia.  It tied the game in the third period and ended up giving the Flyers a much-needed point as the game went into overtime.

With a bevy of defensively-sound forwards in Philadelphia’s employ, Zherdev’s keen offensive awareness and nose for the net brings yet another lethal weapon to the Philadelphia attack.

At times during the season Zherdev was prone to get too cute and attempt to do too much with the puck or try a high-risk pass.  That sometimes led to turnovers and opposition odd-man rushes.

During his last couple of stints in the Philly lineup, Zherdev has concentrated on employing more of a north-south game – something that should endear him to head coach Peter Laviolette.

And that should keep Zherdev in the Flyers’ lineup.

Zherdev’s is quite the story.  But unlike that time in late-February when it looked as though he had played his last game in the Orange-and-Black, it appears that there will be much more to be written before it is completed.

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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