Apr 20, 2011, 2:22 PM EDT
The night began with the Buffalo crowd serenading newly minted Flyers starter Brian Boucher and ended with the Sabres fans quietly filing out while Boosh & Co. celebrated their second straight win to pull ahead in the opening round series. The veteran goalie rewarded his coach for sticking with him after a strong relief performance in game two, stopping 35 of 37 shots and making some huge saves and decisions in a rough third period that included a 5-on-3 stretch.
Jeff Carter opened the scoring on a first period power play, Danny Briere stayed hot both in the playoffs and against his former team, and Nik Zherdev scored his first ever playoff goal on the way to a 4-2 Flyers win. But fans on both sides will be talking about Boucher’s decision to toss off his mask with a play still alive—legally. [Video Below]
The special teams play was a big part of this one, with the Flyers going 1-3 on the power play and holding the Sabres to a 1-6 mark, including a first period double minor and a 5-on-3 stretch in the third period that yielded no Buffalo goals. Sabres fans were plenty pissed at Boucher’s decision to knock his own mask off during that two-man advantage, but after a shot to the mask popped one of his straps, it was within the rules to toss off his mask to signal to the ref that he needed the equipment maintenance.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t have flipped out a little at the replay of said event had it been Ryan Miller tossing his mask off while the Flyers were trying to tie up a playoff game while on a 5-on-3, but Boosh would later say even the ref told him it was the right thing for him to do.
Carter’s goal to open the scoring was a momentary silencer both for his critics at home at the voices in the crowd. He bounced a dump-in off of a Sabres’ defender’s dumper, gathered the puck and fired it past Miller up high. Mid-way through the first, Drew Stafford would beat Boucher with a power play goal of his own.
The Flyers took the lead in the second on a great play by the Briere line. The Sabres won the faceoff, but Scott Hartnell pestered the puck away before they could clear it, skated to the front of the net, then passed it to Briere as he glided up the slot and ultimately buried one past a helpless Miller. That’s two goals in three games this series for Briere, and just above a point per game average over his career. This is why he gets the big bucks.
Nikolay Zherdev joined Boucher in rewarding his coach’s decision to play him (despite it coming in large part due to an Andreas Nodl injury), scoring the eventual game-winner on a gorgeous play generated by his linemates for the night, Kris Versteeg and Mike Richards. Versteeg sent a cross-ice pass to Richie, who fired it to Zherdev down on Miller’s doorstep. The quickness of the action left Zherdev with a fairly open net, and he doesn’t usually need much daylight to find twine. The passes that set this one up made it the play of the game:
Nathan Gerbe would get the Sabres to within one before the end of the second period on a shot Boosh would definitely like to have back, but that was the end of the scoring until Kimmo Timonen iced the game with an empty netter late in the third. There were some moments of heartburn before that though, including the third period 5-on-3.
The momentum is clearly in the Flyers’ favor after back-to-back wins erased the one-game deficit. They’re getting to the Buffalo crease early, with Monday night’s first period goal coming on a power play generated by Darroll Powe going to the net and getting roughed up for it. Boucher made huge saves in every period, saving his best play for the third. There is clearly no question who this team’s starter is at the moment, but we’ve already seen how quickly things can change. Boosh has looked very sharp though, especially in his win in Buffalo’s raucous barn.
It’s now up to the Sabres to respond, and the Flyers to keep stepping up their game, improving their pressure and play in their own end as the series moves on.
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