PHILADELPHIA – The Flyers are losing games and their grip on the Eastern Conference lead.
The Sabres are the latest team outside the playoff picture to thrust themselves into contention for the final spot in the East by outplaying the slumping Flyers.
Jason Pominville snapped a tie game in the third period after the Sabres scored three times in the second in a 5-3 victory over Philadelphia on Saturday.
Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis and Andrej Sekera scored three straight goals in the second to put the Sabres ahead. Ryan Miller bounced back from a shaky first period to stop 33 shots. Nathan Gerbe added an empty-netter late in the third.
“I’m playing guys that are going the best, we are trying to win hockey games, and that’s what I’m going to keep trying to do,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
The Eastern Conference-leading Flyers have lost three straight games for the first time since Nov. 26-Dec. 1. Their last two losses have come against Toronto and the Sabres, two teams nipping at Carolina and the Rangers for a spot in the post-season.
The Flyers, who have cruised atop the East for most of the season, haven’t been able to match the desperation of the teams fighting for a playoff berth.
“I think the last 40 minutes we pushed harder than the Flyers and we got to more pucks,” Ruff said.
Thomas Vanek set up the winner when he fed a perfect line drive pass to a streaking Pominville, who tapped the puck behind goalie Sergei Bobrovsky 6:37 into the third for a 4-3 lead.
“I tried to feed him in the middle and we executed well,” Vanek said. “Every game is big for us, Philly has lost the last few games, so we expected them to come out hard which they did, but we came through.”
Miller held off the Flyers from there to keep the Sabres’ post-season hopes not only alive, but have them feeling good about a possible playoff matchup with the Flyers.
“You have to have those kind of wins where you grind it out; the two points are huge,” Miller said.
Kris Versteeg, James van Riemsdyk and Kimmo Timonen scored for the Flyers.
Buffalo shook off a 2-0 hole and stormed back in the second period with three goals in 3:40 to take the lead.
Stafford spoiled the latest chance for the Flyers to get their first shutout of the season when he scored his 25th goal. Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger had just stepped out of the penalty box to end Buffalo’s power-play opportunity.
The Sabres tied it at 2-all on an odd goal. Ennis was deep in the corner behind the goal line, tossed the puck toward the net and it somehow slipped past Bobrovsky for his 14th goal. Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta was on his back and Flyers defenceman Sean O’Donnell stood on the crease, watching helplessly as the puck trickled by.
No luck needed on the third goal—just gritty effort. Sekera was stopped twice, corralled the second rebound, scooted behind the net and beat Bobrovsky on a wraparound for a 3-2 lead.
Buffalo fans clustered in the upper deck started a booming chant for their team that was quickly drowned out by some Philly fan boos.
Timonen gave the orange-and-black faithful a reason to cheer. Braydon Coburn flipped a puck from along the boards to a wide-open Timonen in front of the net, who punched in his 100th career goal.
It just wasn’t enough.
“Little mistakes are costing us,” Pronger said. “We’re playing teams that are battling for their lives.”
The Flyers had lost two straight games for the first time since late December and saw their lead in the Eastern Conference standings whittled to only three points.
“The month of March is going to be a month where we’ve got to push in practice and in games,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. “The way to turn things is to keep on pushing, and we will.”
They responded with a fiery first period in which they killed Buffalo’s two-man advantage and Bobrovsky stopped nine shots.
Versteeg, who had two goals in Thursday’s loss to Toronto, made it 1-0 with an early power-play goal. Van Riemsdyk beat Miller on a backhander for a 2-0 lead and the Flyers’ funk seemed behind them.
The Sabres had other ideas—and the Flyers hope to rebound Sunday against the Rangers.
“I promise you this, wins will start to come our way,” Laviolette said.
Notes: The Flyers lost three straight games in regulation for first time since Oct. 14-21. … The Flyers assigned C Ben Holmstrom to the Adirondack Phantoms of the AHL.