BUFFALO, N.Y. – Brian Boucher got a second chance, Chris Pronger provided an inspirational boost, and thanks to Ville Leino, the Philadelphia Flyers made this comeback stick against the Buffalo Sabres.
On the brink of elimination, and with the Flyers enduring the latest in a string of goalie shuffles, Boucher stopped 24 shots in yet another relief effort and Leino capped Philadelphia’s two-goal comeback by scoring 4:43 into overtime in a 5-4 win on Sunday to force Game 7 in the first-round playoff series.
The deciding game is at Philadelphia on Tuesday to close what’s been a tightly contested and topsy-turvy series, in which five of the six games have been won by one goal.
“I’ve been through some pretty wild and crazy games through my career,” said Danny Briere, the former Sabres co-captain who scored twice against his former team. “And today was one of them, the roller-coaster ride that it was. My heart definitely skipped a few beats today.”
He wasn’t the only one.
Michael Leighton became the third Flyers goalie to start a game this series, before proceeding to become the third Flyers goalie to be yanked after allowing three goals on the first seven shots he faced.
Enter Boucher, who made up for his dreadful performance in a 4-3 overtime loss on Friday, in which he allowed three goals on 11 shots.
And unlike what happened in Game 5, in which the Flyers rallied from a 3-0 deficit before faltering, Leino sealed this victory during a scramble in front.
Kris Versteeg helped set it up. After getting his first shot blocked, Versteeg gained the rebound and flipped the puck at the Sabres net, bouncing it off several players. The puck fell in the crease where Leino—a step ahead of defender Chris Butler—slid it into the open side behind diving goalie Ryan Miller.
Scott Hartnell had a goal and assist and James van Riemsdyk also scored for the Flyers, who rebounded after two losses.
Now it’s the Sabres turn to bounce back in a season in which they’ve been counted out before. After a dreadful start to the year and after losing top-line centre Derek Roy to a leg injury in December, 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.
“We haven’t done it the easy way, and we’re not going to bail out now,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “We’ve got to win the next one.”
Buffalo will have to do it minus centre Tim Connolly, who has already been ruled out for Game 7 after being shaken up in the second period, when he was shoved headfirst into the boards by Flyers captain Mike Richards. Richards was penalized for boarding.
The good news is, the Sabres are expected to have Roy back.
Thomas Vanek scored twice for Buffalo, while Rob Niedermayer and Nathan Gerbe also scored for the Sabres.
“You’re not going to get a team quitting when the season’s on the line,” said Miller, who stopped 44 shots. “We have to push back.”
Buffalo became the first team in the series to lose a game after scoring first.
The Flyers got a boost—and not much else—in Pronger’s first game after missing 21 since having surgery to repair a broken right hand.
Pronger didn’t get his first shift until 10:05 into the game and the Sabres ahead 2-0. Pronger also took an undisciplined slashing penalty while the Flyers had a two-man advantage. After being crosschecked from behind by Tyler Myers in front of Sabres net, Pronger spun around and whacked the Buffalo defenceman.
He finished with 4:33 of ice time and was limited solely to the power play.
“My back’s a little sore from sitting on the bench,” Pronger said, jokingly.
What impressed him was his teammates’ resolve.
“We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs and adversity, and we always seem to come through in the clutch,” Pronger said. “That happened today.”
The turnaround began once Boucher took over at the start of the second period. Van Riemsdyk and Briere scored 7:54 apart to tie the game 3-3.
Gerbe responded by scoring with 3:51 left on a shot that deflected in of the stick of Sean O’Donnell.
Hartnell forced overtime by scoring at the 10:43 mark of a frantic third period, in which the Flyers outshot the Sabres 14-6. Nikolay Zherdev started the play by driving up the right side and getting a shot off that Miller stopped. Mike Richards got to the loose puck and fed it across to his left to Hartnell, who shovelled it in the open side.
NOTES: The Flyers had never had three goalies start in one playoff series. The Canucks were the last team to start three, doing so against Calgary in 2004. … Ruff became the NHL’s eighth person to coach his 100th playoff game with the same team. His record dropped to 57-43. … Ruff went with veteran experience by inserting journeyman forward Matt Ellis into the lineup to replace Jason Pominville, the Sabres top two-way forward who hurt his lower left leg on Friday. … Pominville wore a walking boot covering his lower left leg and walked on crutches.