Bye Bye, Buffalo: Flyers-Sabres Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Recap
It wasn’t pretty - and, at certain times, it was downright ugly - but the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Buffalo Sabres in seven games to advance to the Conference Semifinals and send the Sabres packing.
Between goalie controversies, trash talking, injuries, and some unlikely heroes, this series was an entertaining one from the get-go. The biggest story was, of course, the goaltender shuffle for the Flyers. The team started three different goalies over the course of the series, the first team to do so since Vancouver did in 2004. Sergei Bobrovsky was originally named the starter for the playoffs, but was pulled from Game 2 after giving up three goals on seven shots. Brian Boucher came in in relief and got the win. Boucher got the next two starts and recorded one win and one loss, then struggled in Game 5 and was replaced by Michael Leighton. Leighton held the Sabres off for about two and a half periods, but the Flyers fell in overtime. Surprisingly, Leighton was named the Game 6 starter, but when he ran into some problems in the first, he was replaced by Boucher, who went on to get the win in both that game and Game 7 (which he started).
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Though the goaltender situation was rocky, one player involved in all of it was not - Brian Boucher. Aside from his struggles in Game 5, Boucher was solid in net for the Flyers, coming out of the first round with a 4-1 record and a 2.10 GAA. There has been a lot of talk over the last week or so about the calming influence that Boucher has over his team, and it was evident each time he was on the ice. He showed so much strength and composure in net that typically mum Peter Laviolette announced to the media immediately after Game 6 that Boucher would get the start in Game 7. He gave up two goals on twenty-eight shots (both goals came in the third period) and was a huge factor in his team’s victory, both in Game 7 and in the series overall.
Aside from Boucher, a few Flyers really stepped up in Round 1. Danny Briere led his team in goals scored with 6 - though that’s not much of a surprise, considering how well he did in last year’s playoffs and his playoff numbers overall. Claude Giroux led the team in points with 9 (1 goal and 8 assists). Mike Richards did not score a goal in the series, but contributed with 5 assists, and was a very physical presence on the ice (more on that later). Ville Leino, who had been a little quiet in the weeks leading up to the start of the playoffs, had 3 goals in the series, including the OT winner in Game 6.
The somewhat surprising series hero was James van Riemsdyk, who came up very big for his team with 4 goals against the Sabres. He leads all playoff players in shots with 43 - already 2 more than his total from last year’s playoffs. If he continues contributing the way he did in this series throughout the rest of the playoffs, he’ll have himself a breakout postseason and the team will surely benefit greatly from his contributions.
While the Flyers have a lot to celebrate after beating the Sabres and advancing to the second round, there are still some concerns. Aside from the goalie issues (which, while Boucher has been great for the team, definitely still exist), they are also dealing with injuries.
Jeff Carter, who led the team in goals scored in the regular season at 36, suffered an injury in Game 4. He and Tyler Myers collided during the first period, and Carter left the ice immediately after and did not return. There are different rumors circulating about what Carter’s exact injury is, but it’s believed to be a right knee sprain or a torn ligament. Either way, he’s expected to miss another week or two as he recovers from the injury. Andreas Nodl was injured in Game 2 and has been listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed upper body injury.
For the Sabres, Jason Pominville was injured in the first period of Game 5 and did not play in Games 6 or 7. It was revealed that Pominville had a severed tendon after being cut by a skate blade, and he will miss 4-6 months while he recovers from the surgery he had to repair the tendon. In Game 6, Tim Connolly suffered an injury after a nasty hit from Mike Richards. Connolly did not return after leaving the ice, and did not play in Game 7. Although Sabres Coach Lindy Ruff did not disclose the exact nature of Connolly’s injury, he said that Connolly would have needed about six weeks to recover if the Sabres had advanced. Derek Roy returned for Game 7, his first game since late December, contributing two assists for his team.
On the lighter end of the injury front, one of the highlights of the series was the return of Chris Pronger in Game 6. Pronger missed 21 games with a broken right hand, and his presence on the ice was definitely noticed as soon as he returned. The Flyers scored three power play goals with Pronger on the ice in Games 6 and 7. Coincidence? Doubtful.
There was a lot of action on the ice during the series, but plenty of action off the ice as well. After Game 4, Mike Richards made a comment about how the Sabres had gotten away with murder by not being called on different penalties. Lindy Ruff accused the Flyers of being whiners. Funny, coming from someone who was doing a lot of whining himself. Ruff wasn’t the only one on the Sabres who had some negative comments about the Flyers. Goaltender Ryan Miller called out Richards on his hit on Tim Connolly, saying, “If Mike Richards thinks we’re getting away with murder, I don’t know what he just got away with. Mass murder?” Miller called for the NHL to review the hit and consider suspension. Aside from the boarding penalty he took during the game, Richards was not penalized for the hit.
All of the tension between the two teams seemed to reach its peak in Game 6. Danny Briere stated after the game that Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta made some comments toward him during the game relating to a personal issue. Apparently, Kaleta made reference to the divorces that both Briere and teammate Scott Hartnell went through last year. Kaleta’s comments had Briere so riled up that the normally timid man gave an impassioned speech to his teammates before the third period. That speech seemed to light a fire under the team, as they went on to force the game into overtime, get the win, and then win the series two days later. Kaleta wound up being scratched for Game 7, as he was dealing with an undisclosed injury.
The Flyers that showed up to play in Game 7 were the Flyers we remembered from earlier this year, when the team was coasting along the top of the Eastern Conference. They were aggressive, they were playing (mostly) disciplined hockey, and they had momentum throughout the entire game. They took the ice in the first with a ton of energy, and maintained it up until the very end. There are still issues within the team, but if they can continue working on those issues and playing like they did in Game 7, they will be a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming rounds.
As of this moment, it is still unclear which team the Flyers will be taking on in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They will meet either Boston, Tampa Bay, or Pittsburgh. Any of the three teams would be a tough opponent, but so will the Flyers. If the first round was any indication, the Semifinals will surely be an entertaining series all around, and will hopefully be a successful one for the Orange & Black.