Baffled by his lack of production, Tyler Ennis remained self-assured of himself and that the goals were bound to arrive. Adamant as he was, the rookie still had an arduous nuisance of going from statement to function. Beneath the hot arena lights of the Wells Fargo Center, Ennis salvaged a win for the Buffalo Sabres that, from the second period onward, gained angst.
After two minutes and change, the 23-year-old exerted a harmless shot near the goal line and Brian Boucher's reaction was akin to that of the Philadelphia advocates. Thomas Vanek did one better by catching the goaltender from behind the net and all of a sudden, Boucher's coverage was abominable. Down low, Daniel Briere's stuff attempt on the powerplay contradicted the wishful thinking, as Ryan Miller would not be compromised. Marc-Andre Gragnani kissed a wrist shot off the post, putting Michael Leighton into full equipment and Boucher on the bench. Cut by a skate, Jason Pominville could not put any weight on his leg and mentions of Andrei Markov's achilles tendon problems, also from an errant skate, weighed thick.
While the Sabres were playing a terrific road game, signs of a struggle creeped in and Claude Giroux almost pounced on a defensive breakdown prior to the intermission. That reality sunk in when James Van Riemsdyk nested in a rebound and Andrej Meszaros wired a slap shot to shrink the deficit. Taking his time out, Lindy Ruff noticed the power of Philadelphia's attack, as they penetrated the defensemen on duty.
Alarmed and barely clinging to their lead, Buffalo's worries were justified. From the seat of his pants, Kris Versteeg stripped Chris Butler of the puck and Mike Richards linked up with Briere. Unlike his miss in the previous contest, he didn't let this chance fall by the wayside. Twice, Drew Stafford could not find a hole in Leighton, as he barged to the net and then fired a rising shot for the goaltender's shoulder to deflect.
Nikolai Zherdev drew a penalty in the late stages of regulation and if the powerplay came up with a successful strategy, Buffalo's hopes of a comeback would be deprived. On a dashing rush, Giroux manipulated a path through four opposing players and Miller's sharpness met the brilliant forward's test. The best kept secret of these playoffs in round one, Van Riemsdyk made his living in the crease constantly and anchored a 3-on-2 in overtime, but the angle was far too acute to score.
A rolling puck went in the path of Steve Montador and he found Mike Weber with yards of space on the left. Moving in from the point, he forced a pad save out of Leighton and Ennis was in prime position to tuck in the second chance. It started with the diminutive winger and it ended with him too, as he celebrated for joy in his premier performance.
Though it was not regarded as the smoothest of results, the Buffalo Sabres reclaimed the series advantage and kept their dignity intact by refusing to quit.
Man Of The Match: Tyler Ennis. Grew in stature on every shift, dodging, ducking and weaving around the ice. The early goal produced confidence and his heroics in overtime caught the Flyers off guard, as he flew in undetected. First sudden death playoff goal for the Buffalo Sabres since Maxim Afinogenov won Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in 2007.
Flop Of The Match: Chris Butler. Watched closely on each of Philadelphia's goals instead of tracking an opponent or protecting possession. Had no problem letting Versteeg start the build-up for Briere's equalizer while resting his legs. Will have to move forward and atone for his lapses.