Boucher puts lid on Sabres as Flyers take Game 3

Coach Peter Laviolette directs his players on the ice in the third period of Game 3.
Coach Peter Laviolette directs his players on the ice in the third period of Game 3.
Posted: April 19, 2011

BUFFALO - Brian Boucher did not have time to think. Just react.

A wrist shot by Tyler Ennis from just 15 feet jarred his face mask, forcing a strap to come off. Boucher said if he turned his head to the left, his mask would stay to the right. And with a possible slap shot on the way, Boucher flung the mask off himself.

"What if the next shot hit me in the face?" Boucher explained. "Broken jaw? No thanks."

In front of him, Darroll Powe had just crosschecked Marc-Andre Gragnani from behind into the crossbar. Nik Zherdev was already in the penalty box. And with the unhinged net sliding toward the backboards, it looked like the Flyers' scant, one-goal edge with 13 minutes left was slowly sliding out of grasp with Powe skating to the sin bin, giving Buffalo a five-on-three advantage for 75 seconds.

Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction was intentional. This one? Not so much. But Boucher's unintentional equipment malfunction, in the middle of a helter-skelter penalty kill, gave his teammates a chance to rest and regroup with the automatic stoppage.

Boucher could have been handed a delay-of-game penalty.

"I had seen other goalies flip their mask off," Boucher said. "I didn't know what would happen. But the referee told me not to worry about the fans. He said it was the right play."

It was the right play for the Flyers, too.

The 18,690 fans crammed into HSBC Arena booed. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff shook his head in disbelief. Boucher skated to the bench and let his teammates exhale.

Strap fixed, the Flyers killed off both penalties and escaped Game 3 with a 4-2 victory to take their first lead in the best-of-seven, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Kimmo Timonen added an empty-net goal with 17.8 seconds left to ice it.

"It worked in our favor," Boucher said. "It wasn't intentional. It's not like I undid the strap and was looking to do this. It just so happened that I went across and made the save and knocked the strap off. It was at a pivotal time in the game. If you want to win games, you have to kill situations like that."

In his first postseason start since May 10, 2010 - Game 5 of that epic, second-round series against Boston - Boucher was able to inadvertently apply the same calming influence that he showed in last Saturday's Game 2 win in relief of Sergei Bobrovsky.

"Any time you can kind of take a deep breath, it gives the guys a chance to come back and talk about plays," defenseman Sean O'Donnell said. "Maybe Buffalo almost scored on that one . . . It gave the guys a chance to talk about the things they were setting up and defend those.

"If we get scored on that five-on-three, it may have been a turning point the other way."

With that successful kill, the Flyers gained back the home-ice advantage they lost when Buffalo stole Game 1 with a 1-0 triumph last Thursday in South Philadelphia.

The Flyers will now have a chance to bring a commanding, 3-1 series lead back to Philadelphia with a Game 4 victory tomorrow night at HSBC Arena.

Just how big was the Game 3 win? The Sabres are 0-15 all-time when trailing in a series 2-1. Buffalo is actually 3-28 when trailing at any point in a playoff series. Meanwhile, the Flyers are 18-3 all-time when leading 2-1 after Game 3.

"When you can get through that [penalty kill], you can take some confidence from that and just try and get back in the period and finish it off," coach Peter Laviolette said. "I thought our penalty killers did a good job, there weren't a whole lot of opportunities."

Aside from their timely penalty kills, which also included a 4-minute double-minor bailout for Scott Hartnell, the Flyers won with balanced scoring. Each one of the three scoring lines notched a goal, including one from an unlikely source.

That "unlikely source" was not Jeff Carter, who netted his first point of the playoffs on his first-period power-play goal. Rather, it was Zherdev, who was nearly the goat in the third period with his penalty. He turned out to be the hero with the game-winning goal.

On Feb. 24, after Zherdev was whisked away from the Flyers' practice facility in a limousine after requesting to be put on waivers, it would have seemed out of the realm of possibility that he would play another game in an orange-and-black uniform, let alone score in a playoff game.

"There's always two different roads you can go down at that point," Laviolette said. "You can go south and maybe never get a player back. Or you can work really hard. He's worked hard with the coaches and worked hard to keep himself in shape."

It was Zherdev's first career playoff point, after being held off the scoresheet entirely through seven games with the Rangers in 2008.

"Since that time, I think what's been most impressive for me has been his attitude," Laviolette said. "He's worked really hard. He's committed like anyone else. He got an opportunity tonight and he scored a big goal for us. He made a difference."

Under pressure, Zherdev's path maybe wasn't all that different than Boucher's in the third period. Throwing his mask off, Boucher could have gone down two different roads: a shot at another penalty to kill or a shot of confidence to his penalty killers. Even if it was just an accident.

Slap shots

In their eight previous playoff meetings with Buffalo, the Flyers have not lost a series in which they led the Sabres at any point . . . The Flyers are 14-7 in Game 4s when leading a series 2-1 . . . Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen were each plus-3 . . . The Flyers were outhit, 26-14 . . . The Flyers allowed 14 consecutive shots on goal that spanned parts of the first and second periods.

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at

www.philly.com/FrequentFlyers. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/DNFlyers.

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