Tyler J. Altemose
The Philadelphia Flyers traveled to cold and snowy Buffalo to greet the Sabres for Game 3 action at HSBC Arena this evening. So far the pace of this series has been dictated by penalties on both sides--and plenty of them.
That pace continued tonight as the Flyers' PK unit staved off a lengthy Buffalo double-minor and 5-on-3 power play that was over a minute long. Also of huge importance to the outcome of tonight's game was starting goaltender Brian Boucher.
Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette turned heads yet again this afternoon after announcing that Sergei Bobrovsky--who was pulled after giving up three goals in Game 2--would be a healthy scratch this evening. In his place would be Boucher. Michael Leighton sat on the bench as Boosh's backup. It was the first time the Flyers went with a Boucher/Leighton tandem since Boucher was injured during the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston last season.
Also out for tonight's game was forward Andreas Nodl. Nodl, who suffered an upper body injury during Game 2, was replaced by Nikolay Zherdev. Many criticized Laviolette's move to go with Nodl over Zherdev to start the series, especially after the latter finished with a strong end to the regular season. Zherdev was paired with Richards and Versteeg.
Chris Pronger, the talk of the town as of late, also remained out. He, Shelley, and Boynton rounded out the list of Flyers scratches.
The Flyers seemed unaffected by the raucous crowd at HSBC Arena to start off the contest. The Sabres, playing with increased adrenaline, got off to a feisty start--too feisty in fact. Early on, a roughing penalty by Patrick Kaleta put the Sabres down a man. Jeff Carter took care of the opportunity, beating Miller stick side to put the Flyers up early.
Later in the period however, the Flyers got sloppy, turning the puck over a couple of times in their own zone. It was followed by a Sabres power play after Coburn interfered with Kaleta, sending him into the boards. Kaleta sustained an upper body injury and did not return to the game.
The Sabres took advantage of the power play as Drew Stafford turned and fired a wrist shot past Boucher in the slot, tying the game at one goal each.
With less than four minutes to go in the first period, Scott Hartnell took a double minor for delay of game and interference after knocking the Flyers net off it's moorings. Fortunately for the Flyers, their PK unit was able to stave off the penalty which lasted for the remaining minutes of the period. Sean O'Donnell, the subject of much criticism lately for having a knack of being on the ice when the Sabres score, was particularly effective this evening.
The Flyers killed off the remainder of Hartnell's double minor to start off the second. The wiley forward redeemed himself later when he picked up a loose puck to the side of Ryan Miller and handed a pass off to Danny Briere in the slot. Briere beat Miller to put the Flyers up 2-1 (and nearly gave the referee an uppercut while performing his patented "Danny Briere Fist Pump").
Turnovers were an issue for both teams during the second period. One particular Sabres turnover led to a 3-on-2 for the Flyers. Richards got the puck into the slot but took too much time before firing the shot. That patience, however, paid off later in the period. With Zherdev set up to Miller's left, Richards took his time before needle threading a pass through a Sabres defenseman to a waiting Zherdev. Zherdev put the Flyers up 3-1 on his first career postseason goal.
That 2-goal lead would only last roughly 2 minutes of game time. After giving up a huge rebound while fighting off a puck, Nathan Gerbe fired one past Boucher who seemed noticably disappointed afterward. Once again, the Sabres stole the momentum at the end of the period.
As the third period began, the Sabres once again coughed up the momentum as they were penalized early. Fortunately for them, the Flyers' power play remained as ineffective and complacent as it has been all season long.
The Flyers themselves were soon the victim of penalties as they found themselves on the losing end of a 5-on-3 after a questionable slashing call on Zherdev and a terribly misguided charging penalty on Powe. Once again, however, the PK unit and Boosh came up big for the Flyers.
Of particular importance was a well thought out move by Boucher. After being hit in the face with a shot that knocked one of his straps loose, he pulled off his mask, stopping play. That move--widely disapproved upon by Sabres fans as boos rained down--took enough momentum off of the Sabres power play to allow the Flyers to kill it once again.
The Flyers simplified their game in the latter moments of the third period, and with under 1:30 to go Miller left the net. JVR missed on an empty net shot, but defenseman Kimmo Timonen did not. His tally sealed the 4-2 win for the Flyers.
The Sabres now find themselves in a dicey situation. They are 0-13 in playoff series' after falling to a 2 games to 1 deficit. The Flyers, meanwhile, are in full control of their opening series. The angst and anxiety felt by many Flyers fans coming into the postseason after a disappointing end to the regular season now seem to be a distant memory.
Main article photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images