Sabres pose problems for Flyers in first round of playoffs

Posted: April 09, 2011

The weekend last September when it was announced Terry Pegula had donated $88 million to Penn State for construction of an ice rink and funding a Division 1 hockey program for his alma mater, he recalled in an interview how the Flyers broke his heart when they defeated his beloved Buffalo Sabres in the 1975 Stanley Cup finals.

As the new owner of the Sabres, Pegula now has a chance to get payback for that long ago disappointment.

The Flyers, the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, will play No. 7 seed Buffalo in the first round of the playoffs. Game 1 is likely to be Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers and Sabres are familiar playoff opponents. They have played eight postseason series, the most recent in 2006, and the Flyers have won five. The Rangers are the only team the Flyers have faced more frequently in the playoffs.

Flyers followers have every right to be nervous about drawing the Sabres in the first round. Their orange-and-black heroes hardly appear to be in playoff mode. They lost 14 of the final 21 regular-season games and their loose defensive play in Saturday night's 7-4 win over the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center was far from inspiring.

Meantime, the Sabres begin the postseason with momentum built from their best stretch of the season. They went 16-4-4 after Pegula officially took ownership Feb. 23 and that's likely more than coincidence.

"The way this team has played the last three months, it's pretty exciting here in the locker room," Tyler Myers, the Sabres' 6-foot-8 defenseman, said after Buffalo clinched a playoff spot with Friday's 4-3 overtime win against the Flyers."

Myers and Jordan Leopold lead Buffalo defensemen in ice time while Steve Montador tops them in the plus-minus category with plus-16.

One Flyer who is probably looking forward to going to Buffalo is former Sabre Danny Briere, who has four goals and four assists in the six games he's played in Buffalo since heleft to sign with the Flyers in 2007.

"It's been a few years so it's a little different than the first year after I left," Briere said. "It's been quite some time now, so it's probably not as crazy. But there's still something there and it's going to be special, no doubt about it, facing a lot of friends. But for a couple weeks we'll have to leave that behind us. I'm definitely excited."

In 2006, Briere was instrumental in eliminating the Flyers in the conference quarterfinals.

Buffalo's first big move under Pegula was acquiring talented right wing Brad Boyes from St. Louis at the trade deadline. The move boosted the Sabres offense and the $4 million cap hit sent a message to the other players that their deep-pocketed owner is willing to reward them for their efforts.

"I think they were reenergized under the new ownership," said Keith Jones, studio analyst for Versus and color commentator for the Flyers on Comcast SportsNet.

The Flyers and Sabres split the four games they played during the regular season with Buffalo winning the two most recent games.

A key to the win was the return of goalie Ryan Miller after he missed four games with an upper body injury. Miller came in at the start of the third period and stopped all eight shots he faced. Miller is 35-22-8 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.

"You could see it gave them a big lift when Miller got back in goal," Jones said.

Thomas Vanek leads the Sabres in points (73), goals (32) and assists (41). He has at least one point in seven of his last eight games and the Sabres are 18-2-1 when he scores two or more points. Drew Stafford has 31 goals and Jason Pominville 22. The Flyers would also be well advised to keep their eyes on Nathan Gerbe, a clever 5-foot-5 center.


Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com

 

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