PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—If Tyler Ennis didn’t start the requiem for the Flyers’ demise in Game Five early in the first period Friday night, the tiny Buffalo winger certainly hummed the final note when he smacked home a rebound by Flyers’ reserve goalie Michael Leighton in overtime.
Ennis’ second goal gave Buffalo a 4-3 overtime victory and the Sabres a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, with the series returning to Buffalo for Game Six on Sunday at 3 p.m.
The Flyers hung perilously close to being knocked out of the playoffs last year, when they made their historic climb out of a 3-0 hole to the Boston Bruins in the second round of the playoffs last year. It’s that experience the Flyers will hope to draw from to bring the series back to Philadelphia for a Game Seven.
“We can’t hang our heads; we have a group of guys that can do it,” said the Flyers Danny Briere, who scored the tying goal early in the third period. “It’s obviously a tough loss, and we’ll keep playing hard. I still believe good things can happen. I can look around the room at my teammates that we can rise when desperation is needed. We never thought it would be easy, but we’ve proven all year we can win on the road. We do believe we are the better team.”
Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller was again a difference maker, turning away 36 shots. But Michael Leighton, who came on in place of Brian Boucher, couldn’t deal with a rebound off a shot from Mike Weber that bounced off Leighton’s left pad, which was scooped up by the left-handed Ennis and right by Leighton for the game-winning goal with 14:29 left in overtime.
The Flyers, playing without Jeff Carter and Chris Pronger, had a chance to win in regulation.
With 2:22 left in the third period, Buffalo’s Jordan Leopold was called for a hooking penalty, giving the Flyers a powerplay, which was 0-for-5. Claude Giroux, who seemed like magic each time he had the puck on his stick, looked as if he might snap the tie, when he closed in and fired one at Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, which the Sabres’ goalie gobbled up to stop play with 1:43 left.
Buffalo survived the late-third period scare—blanking the Flyers powerplay. They did move the puck well, and they had their share of chances, but the regrouped Sabres were able to thwart the Philadelphia charge.
The first two periods were like two separate games. Buffalo scored three goals in the first period on Flyers’ starter Boucher on just 11 shots. Ennis got the Sabres going by beating Boucher within the first three minutes of the game, and Ennis’ goal was quickly followed by another Buffalo goal, this time coming from Thomas Vanek just 1:27 later.
The Ennis and Vanek goals turned the Wells Fargo Center into a wind tunnel, because anything anyone could hear from the sea of orange fans was a frightful, collective howl. It would get scarier later, when the Sabres’ Marc-Andre Gragnani put Buffalo up 3-0 on a 4-on-3 powerplay.
Nothing was working for the Flyers.
They weren’t rushing or crowding the net, there seemed to be no juice in their tanks the first 20 minutes. Nothing was contested, and Boucher, who had
looked so strong in this first round against the Sabres suddenly shut down. He seemed anxious, unsure, and once Gragnani beat him with a wrist shot, that was it. The two soft goals deflated the Wells Fargo Center, and Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette saw enough and yanked Boucher in favor of Leighton, who was making only his second appearance this season, hampered by injuries coupled with the emergence of rookie Sergei Bobrovsky.
“I very much like to redeem myself,” Boucher said. “I’ll take responsibility for that. I’d like to get a second crack at it. I’ll bounce back. I’m upset, I won’t lie to you, and I wanted to have a good start and I didn’t have that. The urgency has to be at the highest level right now. We dominated after they went up 3-0, we just have to get it back here.”
The second period changed the course of the game for the Flyers, who looked so lethargic the first 20 minutes. They began suddenly pressing and stirring the action. Buffalo didn’t know how to answer. Philadelphia played almost the entire second period in the Sabres’ end of the ice, finally snapping the iron trap that Miller has been throughout this series.
The Flyers outshot Buffalo 15-5 in the second quarter. James van Riemsdyk began the resurgence, backhanding a missed shot and adroitly steering it around Miller with 11:48 left in the second period. That seemed to jumpstart the Flyers, because within 1:45, Philadelphia was within 3-2 when Andrej Meszaros blasted one by Miller in the right corner.
It took former Sabre, the Sabre-killer himself, Briere, to make all of the Flyers’ hard work appear to pay off when his goal, a little flip over the sprawled out Miller, tied it at 3-3 with 16:24 left in the third period. The score was made possible by the hustle and tenacity of Kris Versteeg. It the Versteeg who kept the puck alive behind the Buffalo net, where Briere was stationed to poke in by Miller.
Reported by: Joseph Santoliquito