The Flyers entered Easter Sunday's contest with the Buffalo Sabres fighting for their very playoff lives. The orange and black were just one loss away from trading in the sticks and pucks for clubs and balls. History was not on their side. The Philadelphia franchise was 28-34 all time when facing elimination from the Stanley cup playoffs. Today, with some help from Danny Briere, they would improve that mark to 29-34 as they downed Buffalo in overtime, 5-4.
To say our goal tending situation has been helter skelter would be the under statement of the century. Coming into this elimination game nobody knew who would be between the pipes for the orange and black. When it all shook out, Laviolette decided to go with Michael Leighton. Say what now? Despite starting in just one game the entire season our fearless leader decided to place the entire season on Leighton's shoulders. Only time would tell how he would hold up.
Turns out, it didn't take much time to tell. A mere 2:13 into the first period Leighton would be beat. Rob Niedermayer fired a wrister over Leighton's shoulder and into the back of the net. Leighton was far too deep in his net on the play. Not a good start for a team looking to take the crowd out of the game early. Leighton would bounce back, Right?
The Flyers outshot the Sabres over the next 6 minutes. However, on the man advantage Sabres' sniper Thomas Vanek put a bouncing puck past Leighton, who took a swing and a miss with the goal stick that would make Roy Halladay proud.
Not exactly the start the Flyers, nor I, were expecting. It was clearly visible on the bench. Doors were being slammed, heads hung low, and frustrations were clearly evident. This was the second game in a row that shotty goal tending had let the orange and black down early. Visions of the 2001 elimination game ran through my head. I'll spare you the details, that is a game every Flyers fan wants to forget. Who would save this team from squandering, in my humble opinion, one of the best chances at a cup in recent memory? Cue superman, oh no, that's just Danny Briere.
Briere struck with 5:07 remaining in the first to bring the score back to 2-1. The shifty forward found himself all alone behind the defense. This time he wouldn't miss as he fired a rebound, top shelf, past Miller.
The Flyers promptly woke up. They began to carry the play, and the Sabres turned on their heels. After Tim Connolly took a cross checking minor, and on the subsequent kill Chris Butler took a delay of game penalty, the Flyers found themselves with :36 seconds of 5 on 3 time. Unfortunately, that didn't go quite as planned. Chris Pronger and Andrej Meszaros both took minor penalties and it negated a glorious chance.
On the ensuing power play for Buffalo, Thomas Vanek would strike again. With just seconds remaining in the period Vanek found the puck down low, he played the puck through his legs and then quickly through Leighton's. Well there is a shocker, a soft goal let in by Leighton through the five hole.
"Excuse me, Mr. Boucher. We will be needing you services now."
That goal would spell the end of the evening for Leighton and, it appeared, possibly the Flyers as well.
Much to the delight of the Flyers faithful the boys came out firing in the second. 49 seconds into the stanza sophomore James van Riemsdyk continued his stellar post season play. He corraled a loose puck in the slot and beat Miller far side to spark the team to life. The pressure continued to mount throughout the second period. Who could possibly step up for this team?
Batman? No kids, thats just Danny Briere again.
While on the man advantage Briere would pull the game even at 3. After Connolly broke his stick Briere walked into the top of the circles. He held the puck for what seemed like an eternity then fired the puck past a screened Ryan Miller. The bench erupted. Since the lockout, only Henrik Zetterberg's 43 playoff goals are more than Danny Briere's 38. Pretty good company for #48.
Joy quickly turned to sorrow for the Flyers. Diminutive Nathan Gerbe found himself in a 1 on 3 rush. More like a .5 on 3, I kid, I kid. The Flyers found themselves a victim of yet another unfortunate bounce. Gerbe fired a quick wrist shot that ricocheted off the blade of defenseman Sean O'donnell. This left Brian Boucher "swatting at flies". He missed the disc with his glove and the Sabres yet again regained the lead. The Flyers were down but most certainly not out.
Between periods something happened. Danny Briere said enough is enough. We will not go quietly into the night. The Flyers centerman delivered a speech to his team mates that even Laviolette was thoroughly impressed by.
The third period began with much anxiety in the city of brotherly love. Philadelphia found themselves just 20 minutes from playoff elimination. The first several minutes of the third didn't do much to quell the nervous anxiety of Philly's living rooms. The Sabres were spending far too much time in our end. Believe it or not, it's hard to score from 200 feet. Sorry Thomas Vokoun.
Who would step up this time?
Well I guess it seems fitting. I mean he looked like jesus before his hair cut. Scott Hartnell, who has been nothing short of horrendous this series, made everyone quickly forget his trangressions. While up a man, Hartnell wriggled loose and popped a rebound past a sprawling Miller. Hope was restored on this glorious Easter Sunday.
The game continued to be a seesaw affair of chances and solid defensive play. For a second consecutive game overtime would be needed. An extra session to determine the fate of the orange and black. Would they move on to a pivotal game 7 or be sent packing for yet another season?
Well of course Villedelphia would not be denied! (foreshadowing)
Just 4:43 into the overtime period Ville Leino would beat a sprawling Ryan Miller. Release the doves, cue the fireworks, get out the unicorns and glitter! Ok. Just ignore that last part.
Kris Versteeg fired a shot that pinballed through a maze of bodies and found itself on Leino's stick. Miller reached out to stop it but came up short. The team poured over the boards like the mighty Niagara falls to celebrate with Leino and his linemates. It was a feel good win, one that exemplifies exactly what playoff hockey is all about, chewed finger nails, empty bottles of Maalox, and plenty of alcoholic beverages consumed.
Tuesday night brings us to the all important and decisive game 7. What will be in store for the two teams. If it is anything like the other games from this series it will be wildly entertaining. I'm looking forward to 60 minutes (maybe more) of some excellent, and nerve racking, playoff hockey. Fasten your seat belts Philly, you're in for a wild ride.