Flyers Wildly Force Game 7
The puck sat on the spot for what seemed like hours. It was just outside the crease and to Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller’s left. With an open net in front of his position, Flyers forward Ville Leino swung and missed. Then, he quickly regrouped and swung again. His second swipe was successful, and it sent the Flyers home for game seven with an unbelievable 5-4 overtime victory.
Sunday’s game provided a little bit of everything, and the excitement yet again displayed the unpredictable nature of the NHL playoffs. The unpredictability began when the Flyers starting goalie was announced.
Michael Leighton was Peter Laviolette’s choice as net-minder with the Flyers facing elimination. The move couldn’t have worked out any worse for Philadelphia, as Leighton gave up three soft goals in the first period. With the team facing a 3-1 deficit heading into the second period, Laviolette went back to the goalie he pulled in game five after some atrocious goals allowed, Brian Boucher.
Despite the importance of the player in net due to the inconsistency out of the position this series, it was the most consistent player in Orange and Black in the first round that helped turn things around. James van Riemsdyk fired a loose puck past Miller less than a minute into the period to bring the Flyers within one goal at 3-2. Later, the former Sabre Daniel Briere once again hurt the Buffalo crowd when he tied the game at 3-3 with a power play goal.
But the Sabres wouldn’t let the Flyers’ run overwhelm them. Nathan Gerbe beat Boucher on a deflected shot by Philadelphia defenseman Sean O’Donnell with 3:51 remaining before the second intermission. Just twenty minutes from season’s end, the Flyers came out determined to prevent it in the third period. That's exactly what they did.
It was the power play that once again led to a Flyers goal, which was almost inconceivable after the team had gone 2/26 in the series' first five games. Immediately after their time with the man advantage had come to an end, Mike Richards found Scott Hartnell with a soft backhand pass that he deposited in the back of the net with ease. The power play led to the goal because the team had four forwards on the ice, all of which touched the puck on the tally.
First, it was Nikolay Zherdev that shot the puck at Miller, and Leino found Richards. Then, it was the Flyers captain that caught Buffalo cheating to one side of the ice with his pass to Hartnell. With the game tied, the Flyers seized the game’s momentum yet again.
The two sides frantically vied for the game’s winning tally to no avail, and the wild contest fittingly went to overtime. After a Kris Versteeg fired a shot to the front of Buffalo's net, Richards was able to deflect the puck to Leino. And there it sat.
And there it went.
In a series that has seen everything from high-scoring affairs to shutouts to back-to-back overtime games, there will be a seventh game to decide which team will move onto the second round. For Philadelphia, it will be their second consecutive elimination game and they’ll play it in front of their raucous orange-clad fans.
If the series and game six are any indication, it should be a sight to behold.
*Video of Leino's goal c/o Shawn Carson