PHILADELPHIA (CBS)— Perhaps no other Flyers’ first-round opening playoff game came with such intrigue. The Flyers had taken a jagged, choppy arc to reach this point, but they had floundered of late, and the looming question that hung here at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday night was which Flyers team would show up against the Buffalo Sabres? The one that bolted from the gates on the path of a crisp, clean progressive arc; or the Flyers that had a bumpy landing to the regular season?
Consequently, the bumpy Flyers made an appearance, and though they put sporadic pressure on Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller, it wasn’t enough to get anything by the Sabres’ netminder in suffering a 1-0 loss, as Buffalo took home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven, first-round series. The Flyers will have a chance to even the series in Game Two on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center.
What the Flyers don’t need is another repeat of this flat effort. As the game began winding down, it started to take on the appearance that the first goal scored would win it after Miller handled 26 shots in the initial two periods. It didn’t take too long for the boos to start raining down on the hometown team in the third period, as the Flyers’ urgency level began to increase in attempting to tie it.
Buffalo was sitting on a 1-0 lead off a rebound goal by Patrick Kaleta with 5:56 in the third period. The Flyers couldn’t do anything, throwing 35 shots at Miller. Philadelphia had a power play chance with 8:57 left to play, when Tyler Myers was called for a tripping penalty. But the chance fizzled, and Philadelphia continued to struggle against the Buffalo defense and Miller–as the powerplay received a splattering of boos as well.
As the final buzzer sounds, more boos came tumbling down the stands.
What’s more alarming, however, is a Flyers team that stumbled down the stretch has continued to labor. Buffalo closed the season 8-1-1 over its last 10 games, while the Flyers lost five of their last six. At times, the Flyers looked lethargic in the last few weeks of the season, and they did again at times Thursday night in the playoff opener.
Miller had something to do with the Flyers’ funk. He closed down angles and took away anything the Flyers could get on him. Miller had a clear path to most of Philadelphia’s shots, a credit to the fine defensive work in front of the Buffalo net, with the Flyers unable to generate any congestion in front of the net. The Flyers were 0-for-5 on the powerplay, taking 11 shots without a positive result. Buffalo’s defense did a fabulous job of taking away the middle of the ice from the larger Flyers, a power team that likes to work the front of the net. A telling stat was the 16 blocked shots the Sabres made that never even reached Miller (as opposed to the just four blocked shots from the Flyers).
Flyers’ rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky played well, and deserved a better fate. He steered away 24 shots, and if not for Kaleta’s rebound put-back, he was solid. There had been some questions about Bobrovsky entering the series. His performance may have answered some of those questions.
The Flyers’ wore vacant, stunned looks afterward. Though, it is a team that did respond well to being down in the playoffs last year, and hopefully that ability to rebound can resurface, though it’s something Flyers’ captain Mike Richards refused to address, snapping back, “I don’t know, I’m not talking about last year.”
Reported by: Joseph Santoliquito