Flyers survive in Buffalo to force Game 7

There's a loose puck but Mike Richards is trapped between Ryan Miller and Marc-Andre Gragnani.
There's a loose puck but Mike Richards is trapped between Ryan Miller and Marc-Andre Gragnani.
Posted: April 25, 2011

BUFFALO - They didn't say it was over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, or last year when they fell behind the Boston Bruins by 3-0 in games and 3-0 in Game 7, or yesterday when they watched the third different starting goaltender being yanked from the third different game of their opening-round playoff series against the Sabres.

The Flyers just kept playing, somehow.

"I think I lost a couple of years off my life," forward Danny Briere said, after it was over. "That game, with the ups and downs and roller-coaster ride that it was, I'm getting a little old for my heart to take those kinds of emotions. But it was definitely a lot of fun."

Down by 2-0 after only four shots were thrown at starting goaltender Michael Leighton, down by 3-1 at the end of the first period when Leighton was pulled in favor of Brian Boucher, the Flyers still managed to come back and then come back again, forcing a Game 7 in the series when Ville Leino scored at 4:43 of overtime.

The final score, 5-4, speaks to a series that has been both close and wild throughout - because of the goaltenders, because of a bunch of things - and it is now degenerating.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff implied that Flyers captain Mike Richards should be suspended by the league for a hit that knocked Buffalo's Tim Connolly out of the game in the second period. Richards was penalized 2 minutes for boarding.

Meanwhile, Briere said that he was inspired by what he considered to be an over-the-line comment from one of the Sabres players. Briere scored two goals yesterday and now has five in the series.

"One of their young guys said something personal," Briere said. "He crossed a line and it got me fired up."

Briere said he was so fired up that he did not remember the little speech that he gave as the Flyers were preparing to leave their dressing room for the third period. It had been another brutal hill to climb, with Leighton being pulled and Boucher coming in and the crowd at HSBC Arena anticipating the elimination of a Flyers team that has folded in this building before.

"[Briere] had good words going out for the third period," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "It's good to get him fired up. He said he didn't want it to end. Not ready. Not time. People listen to that, and he backs it up with the way he plays . . . In his playoff career, there's a reason that he's over a point a game. He's a big-time player."

For the Flyers, a day that ended with 49 shots on goal began in mystery. After Boucher had been chased from Game 5, who would start Game 6? Laviolette was even more mum than usual on the subject, approaching mummification. Finally, at warmups, it was revealed: Leighton.

In the end, it didn't matter.

Leighton was brutal in the first period, just as Sergei Bobrovsky had been brutal in the first period of Game 2 and Boucher had been brutal in the first period of Game 5. He allowed three goals on Buffalo's first seven shots, and two of them were pretty untidy.

Enter, Boucher. He started the second period and the Flyers stormed back. Just 49 seconds into the period, James Van Riemsdyk - who is a force right now, with 10 shots on goal yesterday - fired one past Ryan Miller off of a faceoff to make it 3-2. Then, with the Sabres' Jordan Leopold off for holding, it was Briere scoring his second goal, a slap shot from the top of the left circle that beat Miller cleanly while Van Riemsdyk was doing his best to be a distraction in front.

So it was 3-3. Just as in Game 5 of the series, the Flyers had surmounted the obstacle that their starting goaltender had built.

"It's draining," Laviolette said. "Coming back from two goals or three goals in the National Hockey League is not an easy thing to do. It's a difficult thing to do. And most of the time, you cave. And when you have to do it back-to-back, it becomes extraordinary. I can't tell you how impressed I am with the resiliency, not just because of today but because we had to do it two games in a row."

But then it began to slip away. At 13:06, Kris Versteeg took an unnecessary slashing penalty. At 13:57, Richards took the boarding penalty. The Sabres had a five-on-three advantage for 1:10 - and the Flyers killed it off.

It should have energized them - but just a few seconds later, the Sabres' Nathan Gerbe came in on a rush and snapped off a shot that was slightly deflected by the stick of Flyers defenseman Sean O'Donnell. Boucher waved at the puck. It was 4-3, Buffalo.

That is how the third period began. Boucher made a couple of big saves early in the period, on Tyler Ennis and Gerbe, to keep the deficit realistic. Then, at 10:43, just after the expiration of a power play, Richards managed to shovel a pass over to Scott Hartnell, who scored into the open side of the net.

It was 4-4. All of the goaltending hysterics had been overcome, again. Now all the Flyers needed to do was win the game - which Leino did, on a rebound.

"Obviously, there's a doubt always," Leino said. "It wasn't easy today. But we worked hard and got the reward at the end."

And when he saw the rebound?

"I was happy," Leino said. "I was almost too excited. I think I missed it once."

He didn't miss it the second time, however. And now, the Flyers are going home for Game 7, with Boucher in the net and one more chance to cement their reputation as outrageous daredevils.

If they fall behind again, only one question will remain.

"How many times can you do it?" Laviolette said.

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