BUFFALO, N.Y. – With his mask on, and for a brief moment without it, goalie Brian Boucher provided the Philadelphia Flyers the steadying presence they were looking for to gain an edge in their first-round playoff series against the Buffalo Sabres.
Boucher stopped 35 shots as the Flyers’ new starter to lead them to a 4-2 victory and grab a 2-1 series lead Monday night.
It was Boucher’s first start and second straight win of the series after he stopped 20 of 21 shots in relief of rookie Sergei Bobrovsky in a 5-4 victory in Game 2 on Saturday.
That was enough to convince Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who was rewarded for his decision to stick with “Booosh,” the team’s most experienced goalie.
“He just settled things down,” Laviolette said. “At the game’s start, he had a calming presence about him. … To get a veteran presence in there made a big difference.”
Boucher’s calmness was particularly apparent eight minutes into the third period with Flyers clinging to a 3-2 lead and attempting to kill off Buffalo’s two-man advantage. Boucher slid across to his left and lunged forward to stop Tyler Ennis, whose shot hit the left side of the goalie’s mask and broke a strap. Without hesitation, Boucher pulled off his mask to stop the play.
Though fans booed Boucher and yelled for officials to call a delay of game penalty, the goalie was content in knowing he did the right thing.
“The mask was loose, and I felt it was kind of unsafe because the mask was kind of moving around on my face,” Boucher said, noting he’s seen other goalies do the same thing to get a stoppage in play. “I know the rules. Otherwise, I don’t know if I would’ve done it.”
Danny Briere and Nikolay Zherdev keyed the victory by scoring second-period goals as Philadelphia bounced back after a 1-0 series-opening loss Thursday.
Jeff Carter and Kimmo Timonen, with an empty-netter, also scored as the Flyers improved to 6-0-2 in their past eight visits to Buffalo, including the regular season.
Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe scored in a game the Sabres never led. Buffalo has lost consecutive games for the first time since ending a three-game skid Feb. 23.
Now its the Sabres’ turn to respond in preparing to host Game 4 on Wednesday.
“I don’t think they’ve been outstanding, and I don’t think we’ve been outstanding,” Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. “We haven’t had our best yet, and we’re going to need it.”
Miller hasn’t been at his best since opening the series with a 35-save shutout.
He finished with 22 saves Monday, and allowed the Flyers to open the scoring 4:42. That’s when Carter snapped a shot from the right circle that sneaked in under Miller’s arm and left the goalie shaking his head in disgust.
It wasn’t all Miller’s fault, as the Sabres were undone by defensive miscues and a lack of offensive finish.
Buffalo converted only one of six power-play chances, failed to generate much momentum following a first period in which it outshot Philadelphia 16-6, and was unable to build off a raucous and loud home crowd.
“The results aren’t good enough,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “The problem is when you’re chasing the lead all night, you’re going to give up some opportunities. It’s tough to chase it. You don’t want to start off by giving them the lead.”
Stafford scored a power-play goal 11:05 into the first period to tie the game.
The Flyers bounced back in the second period, when Briere and Zherdev scored exactly 14 minutes apart to open a 3-1 edge.
Scott Hartnell capitalized on Chris Butler’s giveaway at the side of the Sabres net, and set up Briere for a one-timer in front 2:44 into the period.
Another Sabres miscue led to Zherdev’s goal, as forward Cody McCormick overskated the puck at the left boards inside his own zone. Kris Versteeg immediately fed a cross-ice pass to Mike Richards, who sent the puck to a wide-open Zherdev for an easy tip-in at the right post.
Boucher’s only mistake came when he gave up a fat rebound that allowed Gerbe to score with 1:48 left in the second period. The goaliemade up for that by stopping the final 13 shots he faced.
“In this league, there’s always times where you’re always trying to validate your play,” Boucher said. “This is no different.”
Notes: Bobrovsky went from playoff starter to healthy scratch as recently called-up Michael Leighton served as the backup. … Sabres RW Patrick Kaleta will be re-evaluated after sustaining what the team called an upper body injury. He did not return after being shaken up 11 minutes in a collision with Flyers defenceman Braydon Coburn deep in the Philadelphia zone. … Sabres D Jordan Leopold returned after missing 10 games with a broken bone in his left hand. He replaced D Andrej Sekera, who played Game 2 after missing the opener with an upper body injury.