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Sabres True Grit and Weak Flyers Goaltending Keys Buffalo's 4-3 OT win, 3-2 series lead

     The Philadelphia Flyers play their home games in the Wells Fargo Center, named for the first Federally chartered bank in the U.S. and founded in 1852 by Henry Wells and William G. Fargo who would later become the Mayor of Buffalo. When the Flyers accepted the no doubt considerable sponsorship money in exchange for those naming rights, they also may have invoked an old Buffalo style hex on the building as the visiting Bufalo Sabres have now taken two of three road games in Philadelphia, winning a dramatic thriller 4-3 in overtime on Friday evening to take a 3-2 series lead .
     With the Flyers promising to ramp up their own energy level for game five after losing a thriller in game four in Buffalo, their weak goaltending actually energized the Sabres by letting in two low percentage shots to give Buffalo a 2-0 lead and deflate the home crowd.
     On the first goal, the slightly built Tyler Ennis showed his true grit by out muscling Nikolai Zherdev to a loose puck deep in the Flyers zone. From almost on the goal line Ennis shot from the left wing. Boucher seemed to misread the shot as a pass and rather than square himself to the puck for an easy save that any youth hockey goalie would have stopped, he began to move across the crease. As he opened his legs, the puck struck him and slipped between his pads.
     Boucher's second miscue came after a strong forecheck by Patrick Kaleta caused a turnover behind the net which Thomas Vanek gathered behind the goal line to Boucher's left. The standard position for a goaltender in this situation is skate, leg pad and body  flush to the goalpost sealing off the short side. When Boucher positioned off the post, again failing to read and react properly to the play, Vanek shot from behind the goal line and banked the puck off of Boucher's body into the net for a 2-0 lead.
     One can only imagine the frustration the Flyers skaters felt seeing their goaltender fail to match their own efforts thus far and putting them in a big hole early in the game. But Flyers coach Pete Laviolette stayed with Boucher until he surrendered the 3-0 goal on a Sabres power play. Into the net at that point came backup Michael Leighton who carried the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals last year but spent this season predominately in the minor leagues. Leighton held the Sabres scoreless for over two periods until the OT winner.
     With the 3-0 lead the Sabres now had what has become as the most dangerous lead in hockey. Teams have been routinely rallying from 3-0 deficits to win games this season and especially in these playoffs. While certainly a 3-0 lead is preferable to losing 3-0, the trend is obvious and the Sabres fell victim to their own good fortune.Coach Lindy Ruff said after the game that a 3-0 lead feels like a safe lead and then when the other team raises their play in desperation it's difficult to match their level of play. Teams in the modern era NHL with the salary cap and let 'em skate rules are so evenly matched that without equalling their opponents intensity it's difficult to compete effectively. That's why the Sabres can hold a 1-0 lead twice for victories but 3-0 and 4-0 leads are resulting in disastrous consequences for many teams in these playoffs.
     The Flyers scored three goals in the 2nd period all generated by shots from the left point as the Sabres right wingers consistently failed to mark their defensive assignments. James van Remsdyk scored the first goal off a faceoff play as Paul Gaustad failed to follow his man to the net. Their second goal appeared to deflect in off Tyler Meyers. Then Chris Butler was victimized again behind the net by the Flyers forecheckers as he had his stick lifted from behind and was stripped of the puck to set up the tying goal by Daniel Briere.
     With the score now tied, the Sabres regained their focus and played the Flyers evenly through the third period. In the overtime, A strong play by Rob Niedermeyer on the right wing boards sent the puck to Steve Montador at the right point. Montador fed the puck across the line to Mike Weber at the left point who drove a hard low shot on goal forcing Leighton off his feet to make a pad save. The rebound came out to the 21 year Tyler Ennis who calmly deposited the puck into the net like a veteran to give the Sabres the 3-2 series lead.
     The Sabres host the Flyers on Easter Sunday at 3PM at HSBC Arena in an elimination game but should take little comfort in their home ice "advantage." Road teas are 13-2 this week in the Stanley Cup playoffs and, are 3-2 in this series.
     The Flyers were missing leading goal scorer Jeff Carter (36 goals) and defenseman Chris Pronger, both reportedly out for the series. The Sabres lost Jason Pominville in the second perieod when his lower leg was apparently cut by an errant skate blade. Pominville was reportedly screaming in pain as he headed into the Sabres locker room.
     The Flyers out shot the Sabres 39-32 while the Sabres led 29-8 in blocked shots. That means not counting shots wide of the net, the Flyers threw 68 shots at the net to only 40 for Buffalo, an almost 2-1 margin. The inference being that Buffalo was severly outplayed offensively but their gritty defensive effort kept a significant amount of rubber from goalie Ryan Miller. The Sabre penalty killers denied the Flyers on five power plays while Buffalo scored once on three power play chances.
     Tim Connolly played a strong game. Maligned in the local media for not scoring more goals, Connolly has been a strong presence killing penalties and in the defensive zone. As the third man high on the Sabres forecheck,, Connolly was very effective cathcing Fylers forwards as they exited the zone on the attack and stripping numerous pucks, no doubt to the delight of the Sabres defenders facing the rush.


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