PHILADELPHIA – In a series that went the distance, Brian Boucher did the same in Game 7.
Backed by a burst of early goals, Boucher gets another round to prove he’s the goalie who can lead the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup championship since 1975.
Boucher stopped 26 shots and Philadelphia advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres in Game 7 of their first-round series on Tuesday night.
“There’s going to be days when things don’t go your way,” Boucher said, “But you have to play through it.”
No one did it quite like Boucher.
He was the Game 1 backup, won Games 2 and 6 in relief, and, when swapping goalies became the flavour of the series, was the last winner standing.
“I’ve had to deal with adversity a lot in my career, and somehow, I keep sticking around,” he said. “I always try to say, even when things are down, that these things find a way to work themselves out. And in this series, it did.”
Boucher made his first Game 7 start for the Flyers since the 2000 East finals vs. New Jersey. He bounced around with five other teams and is in his third stop in the Flyers’ organization.
He watched from 180 feet away when Ryan Miller was the goalie chased after the Flyers raced to a 4-0 lead. It was a switch from the rest of the series where the Flyers had trouble in the net. They started three goalies in seven games, but Boucher was stout for all 60 minutes in the series clincher.
The defending conference champions must wait to learn their next opponent.
Braydon Coburn, Danny Briere, James van Riemsdyk, and Ville Leino all scored against Miller to suck the drama out of Game 7.
The Flyers surely won’t complain about a rout.
“We had big-time players score big-time goals,” Flyers captain Mike Richards said.
This was the Flyers team that spent a chunk of the season atop the East standings, not the one that stumbled down the stretch.
Coburn put the Flyers ahead with only 19 seconds left in the first period, and Briere and van Riemsdyk put the game away with goals in the second.
“In the big games, we show up,” said Briere, as the crowd roared in approval.
The Sabres never stood a chance in front of 19,966 screaming Flyers fans.
Or against Boucher.
Boucher may have solidified himself as the No. 1 goalie for as long as Philadelphia’s post-season run lasts. Sergei Bobrovsky started Games 1 and 2; Boucher got Games 3-5 and 7; and Michael Leighton Game 6. One of Boucher’s two wins in relief came in Sunday’s win-or-go-home Game 6 in Buffalo.
This time, it was Miller who was yanked.
Miller, who won two 1-0 games this series, got the hook after Leino’s slapper early in the third made it 4-0. The crowd went wild when Miller skated off the ice. Leino applauded hockey-style, tapping his glove against his stick in appreciation.
“The crowd was unbelievable tonight, and I just wanted to salute them,” Leino said.
From there, it was just a matter of watching the minutes tick off.
Boucher’s bid at the Flyers’ first shutout of the season ended when Tyler Myers made it 4-1 in the third.
The Flyers rallied from a 3-2 series deficit a year after they won four straight to overcome a 3-0 hole against Boston in the East semifinals.
There was no need for a comeback in this game.
The Flyers pounded Miller for 19 minutes in the first period—one near-miss even set off the goal light.
With time winding down, Briere won a clean faceoff and got the puck to Coburn. His liner from the point turned into a knuckleball after Sabres winger Michael Grier tipped it with his glove and the puck wobbled through Miller’s legs.
Briere, a former Sabre, tapped Miller on the back of his head as he skated away.
“There’s no animosity toward the team,”Briere said.
The Flyers grabbed the 1-0 lead with 19 seconds left and reversed what had been a string of miserable starts. The Sabres outscored them 11-5 in the first period over the first six games.
Briere, one of the great clutch playoff performers in the NHL, made it 2-0 when he sneaked in behind Miller and pounded in his series-high sixth goal.
Van Riemsdyk made it 3-0 midway through the second and the Sabres were finished.
Dan Carcillo pushed the lead to 5-1 before Buffalo’s Brad Boyes scored on a late backhander to trim it to 5-2.
Miller didn’t sit on the bench after he was replaced, but did return for the series-ending handshake.
“They got the pucks in the net, they got the bounces, and we couldn’t get anything going and couldn’t cash in until the third,” Miller said.
The fast starts and solid goalie play were part of a needed winning trifecta for the Flyers. The third came on the power play, where Briere and van Riemsdyk scored their goals. The Flyers were 1 for 20 at home this series and 3 for 31 overall.
Now it’s time to start fresh. They’ll play either Boston, Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay.
The Sabres head home after new ownership and a rousing finish to the regular season helped give them confidence for next season.
Buffalo was hit hard with injuries in this series and was undermanned in the final two games. Tim Connolly, Jason Pominville and Patrick Kaleta all sat out Game 7.
Derek Roy returned to the lineup for the first time since Dec. 23. The team’s leading scorer when he suffered a torn quadriceps in December, he had been ruled out of the first round. He was pressed into service with Connolly injured.
They’ll have all off-season to rest.
“There were some guys who were able to muster up energy, some other guys played more than their role, but those guys emptied their tanks for me,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “For four months, we asked them to go above and beyond and they did.”
Notes: The Flyers improved to 9-6 in Game 7s. … Philadelphia hosted its first Game 7 since beating Toronto in the first round on April 22, 2003. … The Sabres fell to 1-6 in Game 7s, including 0-5 on the road.