VOORHEES, N.J. — The Buffalo Sabres lit a fire under the Flyers at the tail end of Wednesday’s 1-0 loss, as Paul Gaustad dropped the gloves with James van Riemsdyk and Nathan Gerbe threw a going-away hit on Kimmo Timonen after the final whistle.
On Thursday, it was Sabres’ coach Lindy Ruff’s turn.
Winning in the post season comes down to production. If one team’s best players out-produce the other, the series is usually there for the taking.
It’s a simple formula.
Yet, while the Flyers’ big scorers have produced nine goals in two games, the Sabres are still looking for answers. And that’s why, despite having the better goaltender in Ryan Miller and holding the Flyers to a power play efficiency of 11.1%, the Sabres are down 2-1 in the series and holding on for dear life.
It was like deja vu.
Trailing 3-2 early in the third period of Game 3, the Buffalo Sabres earned 1:15 of 5-on-3 time thanks to a Nikolay Zherdev hold and a Darroll Powe cross-checking call.
But just like the Flyers’ Game 1 two-man advantage, for the Sabres, it was the turning point of the contest. And just like for the Flyers, not converting proved costly.
For nearly every team in the playoffs, home-ice advantage has been a crucial and desired aspect in gaining an edge on the opposition. However, for the Flyers, their strategic advantage comes as the visitors.
“I think when we get away we just kind of relax,” said Jeff Carter. “When you’re on the road there isn’t much to worry about except for going out and playing hockey. For whatever reason, we seem to play our best hockey on the road.”
With less than two minutes left and Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals tied at three, it became painfully obvious that Jeff Carter was not a playoff finisher.
With a chance to win the contest and send the series back to Chicago for Game 7, Carter grabbed the puck, swung around the Blackhawks net and fired one of his many wrist shots right into Antti Niemi.
The Blackhawks went on to win in overtime.
There’s something to be said for a steady veteran hand when a precision job is needed. And that’s exactly what Brian Boucher gave the Flyers in Game 2 on Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres.
Coming in relief of shaky rookie Sergei Bobrovsky in the first period, Boucher steadied the ship, making 20 saves and more importantly, gave the Flyers an opportunity to take the eventual 5-3 victory.
“I think [Boucher] is very calm,” said Danny Briere. “He’s been around. It takes a special kind of person to come in while we’re down 3-2, in front of 20,000 fans, during a big game. He kind of settled things down for us and I think that was one of the reasons why we played with a little more composure maybe in the last 45 or 50 minutes.”
On Friday following the Flyers’ afternoon practice, the players all equally shrugged off the shutout home loss to the visiting Buffalo Sabres in Game 1. The mantra followed by the still-confident group was one of ‘we played well enough to win’ and ‘we’ll get them on Saturday’.
And while the lack of concern for their Game 1 defeat may seem counterproductive, the Flyers are focusing squarely on the crux of the entire series — Game 2.