Thursday, April 05, 2012

Flyers win, Sabres play like handling butterknives with playoffs on the line

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Magazine

On the internet in a few hours and in the papers tomorrow, it'll be Matt Read who gains the spotlight and who will be credited with putting the final dagger in the playoff hopes of the Buffalo Sabres, as the rookie tallied the winner late in the third period to salt away a Flyers' 2-1 comeback victory.

Read made a fool of Buffalo defenseman Robyn Regehr, who unwisely tried to pinch off the rookie along the left-wing boards at his own blue line. The Bemidji State product deftly sidestepped that check, rolled alone on goal and beat Ryan Miller with a backhander as 4:21 showing in regulation.

"I was looking for an opening, but I noticed as I got closer was that I had to lift it over his pads," Read said of his game winner. "Jake (Voracek) just kinda winged it up there and I saw some open ice and just decided to go for it."

Officially, it will be because the Panthers-Capitals game was decided in regulation a little bit later on, won by Washington and giving both Southeast Division teams entry into the postseason.

No matter. The visitors played their most crucial game of the season like they were carrying butter knives, not the deadly weapon prominently displayed on their crest. A fact that Miller alluded to in his post-game comments.

"We didn't put ourselves in a strong position to make the playoffs so we had to chase," he bluntly admitted. Not a good feeling. Pretty embarrassing."
Part of the reason they were in this predicament, was a first-half swoon which necessitated a 20-7-5 run entering play just to get to the precipice. It didn't help that Lindy Ruff's club also expended a ton of energy in Tuesday's improbable 6-5 overtime comeback victory over Toronto which kept their slim hopes alive.

That fatigue was never more evident than as the clock ticked below two minutes to play, as the line of Claude Giroux/Jaromir Jagr/Scott Hartnell plus a defense pairing of Andreas Lilja and Marc-Andre Bourdon essentially played keep-away for an entire shift, keeping Miller in the crease and reducing the time needed to skate an extra attacker.

Once that was accomplished, only a Tyler Ennis chance from along the goal line to the left of the Philadelphia net managed to throw a scare into the cheering throng. But the shot skittered off the inside of Ilya Bryzgalov's right pad and flew harmlessly into the corner as the final seconds ticked away.

“We’ve got to be mentally sharp and that’s probably been our biggest problem. Not being mentally ready to play these games," Hartnell said. "You can't get down 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 like we've been doing because you don't have these epic comebacks all the time. Especially against good teams because they're all hunting for the same thing.”

Bourdon put the hosts on the board early in the third and Bryzgalov backed that up with 25 saves.

Miller acquitted himself well in defeat, stopping 33-of-35 pucks. Ville Leino provided the sole offense for the Sabres.

The Flyers assured themselves of the fifth spot in the East, raising their point total to 103, as the Penguins -- their locked-in first-round opponent -- beat the Rangers to clinch fourth.

"We just didn't finish," Ruff said, paradoxically because his opponents had the better of the missed opportunities. "We had our chances, and we didn't get the kind of shots we needed. There were far too many by the wayside."

In a largely sonorous opening period, the best chance for either side came late, as Miller was quick to react and use a poke-check to halt a Read short-handed breakaway.

Brayden Schenn failed to produce a score when he missed an open chance from atop crease off a Jake Voracek dish with 6:25 left in the second. That was a costly miscue.

Buffalo produced the game's first goal with 2:34 to play in the middle period. Drew Stafford's tip of a point drive from the left side clanged off the right post, and laid right in the crease where Leino followed up ahead of Matt Carle's check.

On the following shift, things seemed destined for a tie, but Sean Couturier had his redirection turned away by Miller's stick enough to hit the outside of the left post.

Bourdon finally brought the crowd to life at the 6:05 mark of the third, sending a one-timer off a Lilja dish home to the far side.

Notes: Miller earned Third Star, Bryzgalov picked up Second Star and Read was First Star...The victory meant the Flyers earned their first season-series sweep of the Sabres since going 4-0-0 during the 2008-09 season...Philadelphia ended up 22-13-6 at home...Read still leads all rookies in goal scoring with 24...Leino, who left the Flyers for a hefty multi-year deal in the offseason, has just eight goals and 25 points in 70 games...With an assist on Thursday, Giroux has 65 helpers, most in one season since Eric Lindros totaled 68 in 1995-96.
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