It might be the first playoff game the Buffalo Sabres had to win, but their regular season was filled with these urgent moments. Victory for the Philadelphia Flyers meant that one foot would be into the next round for the defending Eastern Conference Champions. Ignoring Game Two, the goaltenders have been stellar and their duel has shown that the room for error is excruciatingly minimal. Ryan Miller's pedigree left people shaking their heads, as did Brian Boucher's counter-punch.
Nathan Gerbe drilled Blair Betts less than a minute into the game, getting the audience involved and loud. To add further sting, Patrick Kaleta rammed James Van Riemsdyk against the boards and surely, more than a few listeners heard Harry Neale accidentally refer to him as (John) Vanbiesbrouck. With their energy, Buffalo came out to a flying start and hemmed their opponents in their end. Boucher chants were echoed throughout the arena and as quickly as they started, Mike Weber's infraction silenced them.
On the powerplay, the puck lost itself in the middle of a scramble and it came loose for Ville Leino. Were it not for Chris Butler's quick thinking, Philadelphia's unit would have celebrated their advantage. Jason Pominville opened his account for the postseason after a heads-up play from Tyler Ennis behind the net and a Rob Niedermayer dish. Just minutes later, Tyler Myers slid to block a shot from Van Riemsdyk, as the Flyers were stretching the ice beautifully with their long passes.
Although Myers and Brad Boyes rattled the iron, the leading club was on thin ice towards the end of the period - metaphorically speaking. A suspect idea from Marc-Andre Gragnani nearly proved costly, as he decided to connect with Miller to ease the pressure. Only the goaltender didn't make his move and Philadelphia recovered it outside of the trapezoid area to almost equalize. For the visitors, Jeff Carter left early because he and Myers innocently bumped knees while crossing paths.
Gragnani, almost a mirror image of Andrej Sekera, found Niedermayer with a firm pass early in the second period. As instrumental as the veteran was on Pominville's marker, he was equally poor on this chance, waiting far too long to shoot and Boucher wasn't troubled at all. Philadelphia came out with purpose and positivity, outworking the home side to loose pucks and winning races. What chances did come Buffalo's way were squandered, notably a two-on-one involving Mike Grier and Cody McCormick.
Darroll Powe brushed a shot off the post and Daniel Carcillo bumped into Ryan Miller, resulting in a glove-hand retaliation. Peter Laviolette became disgusted with the fact that Weber was not penalized for taking down Carcillo, as offsetting minors were called instead for the other two. When Kaleta skated at Mike Richards to throw a hit, the captain braced himself by lifting his elbow; worthy of two minutes - not the five.
The penalty carried over into the third frame, but the Flyers were standing up the Buffalo forwards on the blue line and hunting down them down. Two shots on the five-minute major gave Boucher little of a workload and his teammates found extra life from the penalty kill. Humorously, Kaleta invited Nikolai Zherdev to have a seat by opening the door to Buffalo's bench and the Ukrainian fell inside his enemy's quarters. While line changes blocked him from getting out fast, he made it back to the right side.
They say that good players don't follow the puck, it follows them. Claude Giroux's possession time didn't seem to subside, as his guile and patience were embodied from start to finish. But it was Daniel Briere, so often a tormentor of Buffalo, who had the opening he craved. Paul Gaustad's error rewarded him with a break-away without the actual break-away. All by himself, Briere was in disbelief because his fakes didn't fool Miller and the electricity from the crowd let him know.
In the dying moments, Ennis delicately flicked a pass to himself above the defenseman's reach and met it, but Boucher was equal to the task. Coming back, Richards fanned on his release somewhat and Miller recovered the shot despite being off his feet. Then, Thomas Vanek's fluid movement to get free was undone by Kaleta's crashing of the net before he tried his luck on Boucher. Chances flowed for both sides but the enthralling match had reached its limit for goals.
As it drew to a close, Kimmo Timonen put his stick where it did not belong on Gerbe and hacked his delicate region. How the league looks at that will be interesting. Everybody on the ice found themselves short on controlled emotions. Scott Hartnell wanted to halt Gerbe's altercation with Timonen, but apparently wasn't interested in challenging Gaustad to another fight. In the end, it was of small significance by comparison to the final score.
With four games down, the Sabres are alive and back in a frantic series that promises to bring more of the same in its remainder.
Man Of The Match: Ryan Miller. Got better as the night wore on and saved well to deny Briere and Richards. Indebted to his defensemen for their shot-blocking early on, but amazingly ensured that one goal would do the job like he did in Game One. Stamped his authority on the match and deserved the clean sheet.
Flop Of The Match: Kimmo Timonen. Normally a quiet and inspirational rearguard, he lost the plot after the concluding whistle. Very strange choice from the 36-year-old and easy to see why Gerbe didn't skate away.