PHILADELPHIA – The Flyers have their captain for Game 7.
Forward Mike Richards sidestepped a punishing hit instead of delivering one on Monday, and will be in the lineup for a win-or-else Game 7 against Buffalo.
Good news for the Flyers.
Bad for the Sabres, who are seething.
Buffalo wanted Richards suspended by the NHL for plowing centre Tim Connolly head first into the boards. Connolly, who has a scary history of head injuries, left the game and will not play Game 7 on Tuesday night in Philadelphia.
Richards was penalized for boarding. He was also whistled for a 5-minute major for elbowing Patrick Kaleta late in the second period of Game 4. That’s two vicious hits too many for Buffalo. Just ask goalie Ryan Miller, who called Richards “reckless.”
“The guy who was complaining the most about how we were getting away with murder has delivered two of the dirtiest hits in the series,” Miller said. “A blatant elbow to the face, that is something that the league said they were going to try and take away, and driving Tim Connolly head first into the boards.
“It wasn’t just a hit it was a push. It was blatant.”
Richards, of course, isn’t disputing it was a hard hit. He’s just glad he has the opportunity to play, and help the defending Eastern Conference champions advance to Round 2.
While he contended earlier in the series the Sabres got away with “murder” on the ice, Richards wasn’t interested in another heated exchange of words.
“I’m not worried about that,” he said. “I’m worried about helping the team out and getting one by the goaltender tomorrow.”
On the Buffalo side, it’s exit Connolly, enter Derek Roy.
The Sabres should have Roy in 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. But he’ll be pressed into service with Connolly injured.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff teased on Monday that Roy might not be ready to play. But Roy insisted he’ll be in the lineup.
“I wouldn’t play if I wasn’t 100 per cent,” Roy said. “We were waiting for the right moment, and this work that I did has paid off. I came in every morning—first in, last out—and it’s been a long road.”
The Sabres didn’t miss him. Buffalo responded by going 29-11-6 in its final 46 games to clinch a playoff spot in its second-to-last game of the season.
And while he’s glad to be back, certainly, Roy isn’t sure how much he can push himself in a frantic Game 7.
The Flyers faced a familiar situation in Game 6 when injured defenceman Chris Pronger returned for the first time after a 21-game absence following surgery on his broken right hand.
Pronger didn’t get his first shift until 10:05 into the game with the Sabres ahead 2-0. He finished with 4:33 of ice time and was limited solely to the power play. Pronger expects to see a minutes bump Tuesday.
“He has been there and he knows what it takes,” Flyers forward Claude Giroux said. “Any time you’ve got a guy like Pronger in your lineup, you are going to feel more confident.”
While Pronger settles back in his comfort zone, the Flyers could use an offensive jolt from Richards.
He has yet to score in the series—a six-game tussle that will haunt the Sabres if they can’t find a way to win a Game 7 on the road. They coughed up a 3-1 lead in a Game 6 loss and surrendered a 3-0 lead before rallying in Game 5.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette keeps spinning the wheel in net—round and round it goes, where it stops—well, at least the Flyers know. He ended any mystery by naming veteran Brian Boucher the starter. Yes, the Flyers have used three starting goalies in the series. Sergei Bobrovsky to Boucher to Michael Leighton back to Boucher.
Boucher, who lost a Game 7 for the Flyers in the 2000 East finals vs. New Jersey, is ready to build on his strong finish to Game 6.
“I feel like I have had a solid series, aside from three minutes,” Boucher said. “So, I feel good about my game.”
Miller has two shutouts—and as many losses as Boucher, Bobrovsky and Leighton.
“You have to play a calm hockey game,” Miller said. “Sometimes, being overexcited can hurt, and I think being nervous can hurt. I don’t think there’s any reason to be any of that.”
Home ice hasn’t been an advantage. The Flyers lost Game 1 at home. The Sabres lost Games 3 and 6 at home.
The Flyers, though, are leaning on a bit of recent history to assist them as they try and rally from 3-2 down to win a series. They famously trailed Boston 3-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year and stormed back to win four straight.
They’d love a repeat.
“It’s nice to have that experience,” Richards said. “But, at the same time, if it’s your first or your 10th (Game 7), you’re still nervous, excited to get it going.”