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Flyers Improve, Yet Lose in OT

There is quite a fine line between a win and a loss in the NHL, especially in overtime. The Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres proved that once again on Friday night in a thrilling 4-3 Buffalo victory. Although the Flyers skated away with only one point, they showed the ability to sustain a high level of play, something that was very much in question before Friday.

With one game remaining, the team can clinch the Atlantic Division with a win over the New York Islanders on Saturday. The team has won 20 of their last 21 meetings with the Islanders, but nothing is a given for the Flyers anymore.

Despite being outplayed for the very beginning of Friday’s game, the Flyers found a way to jump out to the contest’s first lead. Daniel Briere found Scott Hartnell in front of Buffalo’s net for the game’s first tally and the only score of the first period.

In the second period, the Sabres wasted no time in their attempt to knot the game at one. Nathan Gerbe scored on a long wrist-shot that goalie Sergei Bobrovsky never saw on account of traffic in front of the Flyers’ net. The goal came just 25 seconds into the period, and Jason Pominville would add his 21st goal of the season less than four minutes later to give the Sabres a 2-1 advantage.

When Darroll Powe took an unforced delay of game penalty less than two minutes after Pominville’s goal, it seemed like the wheels would fall off for the Flyers yet again. But, the penalty-killing unit of Philadelphia came through in a big way when Kris Versteeg and Andrej Meszaros broke out to a 2-on-1 breakaway. Versteeg held onto the puck just long enough to freeze goalie Jhonas Enroth and tied the game at two with a quick wrist-shot.

Less than a minute later, Briere once again haunted his former team. This time, he was the beneficiary of a Hartnell assist, as he fired a one-time blast past Enroth. His goal was the result of a tremendous play by Hartnell to evade the Buffalo defense in his offensive zone entry. In doing so, he created another 2-on-1 that had Enroth completely hung out to dry by his defense. After Briere took advantage, the Flyers would head into the final period with a 3-2 lead.

Gerbe once again proved to be a thorn in the Flyers’ sides when he tied the game at 3-3 immediately after the ten-minute mark of the period. His dazzling backhanded spin-o-rama goal was another instance where Bobrovsky had absolutely no sight of the puck. Despite controlling play down the stretch, the Flyers couldn’t capitalize with a goal and headed to overtime.

In the extra period, it was the player that scored a goal and assisted another that had a lapse in judgment. Hartnell had the puck along the boards in the offensive zone and made a blind backhanded pass towards the center of the ice. With no Flyers in position to play the pass, Buffalo took advantage. Thomas Vanek took the puck on a breakaway and fought off a hooking penalty before beating Bobrovsky for the game-winning goal.

In comparison with the way the team played earlier this season, Friday’s game would have been considered a clear disappointment. But, that team may not be coming back anytime soon, if ever. It was clear however, that Friday’s Flyers were a large improvement over the team that was obliterated in Ottawa on Tuesday night. Despite losing on an ugly decision, there were more than a few positives to take from the overtime loss.

Although there were positives, the main negative was obvious; the Flyers’ inability to notch two points gave the Washington Capitals the number one seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs for the second consecutive season. The team must continue to improve in their last game of the regular season on Saturday in order to win the Atlantic Division.

What usually seems like a given win for the Flyers now looms large. And, with one game remaining, the days of ‘givens’ are long gone.

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