After the Flyers clinched a postseason spot Friday night with a 4-2 victory over the Sabres, Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock and his players agreed that a swagger - especially against potential playoff opponent Buffalo - is also starting to emerge.
"From a confidence standpoint, this helps us," Hitchcock said. "We know we can come in and play well in this building."
Philadelphia's last win in Buffalo was April 8, 2001. The Flyers were 0-6-1 since then. If the teams stay in their current positions, they would meet in the first round of the playoffs with the Sabres holding home-ice advantage.
The Flyers avoided a season sweep, salvaging one win in four games against the Sabres.
"This has been a difficult building for us," said Robert Esche, who made 20 saves. "This was a step in the right direction, especially if they are our first-round (opponent)."
Simon Gagne had a goal and two assists, and R.J. Umberger, Eric Desjardins, and Mike Knuble also scored for the Flyers, who closed within three points of the first-place New York Rangers in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers and Rangers each have six games left, with one matchup remaining on April 15.
Philadelphia also trails fourth-place Buffalo by five points in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
"We have to face the fact that we might be back here in a couple of weeks," Knuble said. "This was all we could ask for."
The Flyers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first 9:06. Umberger scored 1:32 into the game after taking a drop pass from Jeff Carter. Gagne made it 2-0 when he fired a slap shot from the high slot with the puck on its end.
"The game's not won in 10 minutes, but momentum can be earned," Miller said. "It took us a while for us to get back to where we wanted to be."
Buffalo cut the deficit to 2-1 as Connolly scored a power-play goal 59 seconds into the second period. He faked three Flyers before flipping a backhand shot over Esche's shoulder.
Philadelphia reclaimed its two-goal lead at 9:07, taking a 3-1 lead as Eric Desjardins scored on a slap shot from the right point.
"We got the lead and weren't chasing the game," Hitchcock said. "It allowed us to play our game a little bit better."
With 1:02 left in the second period, Kotalik fired a slap shot from just inside the blue line. It was his 25th goal, tying him with Chris Drury for the Sabres' lead and snapping his season-high, 12-game streak without a goal.
Buffalo's best chance to tie it came with about 6:30 to go in the third period. Daniel Briere was beside the Flyers net and failed to connect on a crossing pass.
Knuble scored an insurance goal with 4:10 to play, as Miller was focused on Joni Pitkanen, who delivered a pass to Knuble for a shot into an open net.
"We dug ourselves a hole, and we tried to dig ourselves out of it," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We kept it close until late, but they didn't give up a lot. Our passing was awful and our shooting was worse."
Notes: Philadelphia played without forwards Peter Forsberg and Petr Nedved, who sat out with groin injuries. ... Ryan Potulny, the Flyers' third-round draft pick in 2003, made his NHL debut. He played on a line with Donald Brashear and Brian Savage. Potulny signed with Philadelphia last week after finishing his college career at the University of Minnesota. ... Buffalo trails Ottawa by eight points in the Northeast Division race. ... Knuble extended his goal streak to three games.
|R.J. Umberger (17) ASST: Jeff Carter (17), Niko Dimitrakos (13)|
1 - 0 PHI
|Simon Gagne (44) ASST: Mike Richards (22), Mike Knuble (31)|
2 - 0 PHI
|PPG - Tim Connolly (13) ASST: NONE|
2 - 1 PHI
|PPG - Eric Desjardins (4) ASST: Freddy Meyer (16), Simon Gagne (31)|
3 - 1 PHI
|Ales Kotalik (25) ASST: Maxim Afinogenov (44), Rory Fitzpatrick (5)|
3 - 2 PHI
|Mike Knuble (33) ASST: Joni Pitkanen (30), Simon Gagne (32)|
4 - 2 PHI
|Power Play %||15.9%||20.0%|
|% on Road||17.6%||16.7%|
|% at Home||14.3%||21.7%|
|Derian Hatcher Hooking against Thomas Vanek|
|Maxim Afinogenov Diving against Donald Brashear|
|Donald Brashear Holding against Maxim Afinogenov|
|Freddy Meyer Hi-sticking against Daniel Briere|
|Derek Roy Hooking against Mike Richards|
|Derek Roy Tripping against Mike Knuble|
|Chris Drury Hi-sticking against Niko Dimitrakos|
|Denis Gauthier Holding against Daniel Briere|
|Michael Grier Tripping against Branko Radivojevic|