Flyers Rally, But Lose a Heart-Breaker in OT
The stage was set for game five in South Philadelphia. The hype was for a physical game with a ton of animosity, but when physicality is hyped up so much, there is more reason to believe nothing will come of it.
In response to the trash talking and the way game four ended, the Flyers inserted Zac Rinaldo into warmups. Much to the dismay of Flyers fans, it eventually became known that he was in the lineup for the Flyers. Rinaldo had never played a single NHL game before Friday night (He would end up playing just 1:54 in the game). Anyone that is familiar with Rinlado looks at him only as a goon. He has certainly earned that reputation with all his penalties and suspensions.
The thought of Rinaldo playing ended up a distant worry early on for Flyers fans.
Less than three minutes into the first period, the Sabres jumped out to a 1-0 lead. Tyler Ennis scored a very fluky goal from a tough angle that went off the pad of Boucher and in the net. It's obviously not the type of goal you want to give up early on home ice in such a huge game. Just over a minute later, another fluky goal beat Brian Boucher. This time Thomas Vanek shot the puck from behind the goal line and found some space between Boucher and the goal post. Just like that it was 2-0 Sabres and the Flyers looked shaken.
To be trailing by two goals so early and to have the crowd taken out of the game was so deflating for the Flyers. They were completely on their heels. The Flyers did not look good, and the ice was tilted in their end.
Special teams would prove to be a big story again in this game. Late in the first period after the Flyers finally looked like they were getting their legs, the Sabres took advantage of a power play. Marc-Andre Gragnani fired a nice wrist shot that got past Brian Boucher and gave the Sabres a 3-0 lead.
Brian Boucher was pulled in favor of Michael Leighton after the third goal was given up. Peter Laviolette really did not have much of a choice. It was Leighton's first NHL action since late December. To have three goaltenders between the pipes in five playoff games is absolutely bizarre, but it's reality for the Flyers.
The first period ended with the Flyers trailing the Sabres 3-0. It was everything that the Flyers did not want to happen, but did they roll over defeated and give up because everything was going wrong? No. The Flyers fought back with all that they had like they have been known to do so often.
The Flyers were out-shot 13-9 by the Sabres in the first period, but the tables were turned in the second period as the Flyers out-shot the Sabres 15-5.
Finally, 8:12 into the second period, the Flyers solved Miller for the first time since game three. Andrej Meszaros fired a shot that Miller came way out of his crease to stop, and James van Riemsdyk was able to find the rebound and force it past Miller on the backhand. Van Riemsdyk had been on a mission all night to beat Miller. His hard work finally paid off.
One goal can do wonders, and that goal woke up the sold out crowd at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers were feeling it, and they were poised to make a comeback.
Andrej Meszaros pulled the Flyers to within one just over a minute later. His shot is the most valued shot of all Flyers defensemen, and when he lets it go, good things tend to happen.
The second period ended with the Flyers trailing the Sabres 3-2, but it was hard to not believe that they would and could tie the game and go on to win it.
The Flyers wasted no time getting things tied up. 3:36 into the third period, Danny Briere made it a 3-3 game. From the seat of his pants, Kris Versteeg managed to get the puck to Mike Richards behind the net who completed an absolutely beautiful pass to Danny Briere who beat Ryan Miller on the backhand. It's still hard to believe how Richards got the puck over to Briere.
As the period went on, you could sense the pace of the game changing. Any bad bounce or odd man rush could lead to a game winning goal.
With just over two minutes remaining in regulation, Jordan Leopold got called for hooking to give the Flyers the perfect opportunity to break the tie without going into overtime. While the power play looked great, the result was not there and the Flyers failed to capitalize on the huge opportunity. Because of that, the game headed to overtime.
Overtime tends to either end really early or really late, and this time it ended relatively early. A little over 5 minutes in, the Sabres won it. The Flyers failed to get the puck out of the zone, and it cost them. Michael Leighton stopped Mike Weber, but the rebound went right out to Tyler Ennis who capped off his incredible game with the OT winner.
The Flyers were able to rally back, but there are no moral victories in the playoffs. The Sabres left with the win and the 3-2 series lead.
There were positives to take out of the game like the play of Andrej Meszaros, Nikolay Zherdev, and James van Riemsdyk, but once again since it is the playoffs what matters is the end result of the game which was a Flyers loss.
The Sabres can now close out the series on home ice on Sunday unless the Flyers have some more fight in them. This team never likes to do things the easy way, but going up to Buffalo to try to force a game 7 and then win a game 7 is no easy task. We shall see if it can be done or if the Flyers will take a shocking first round exit.