PHILADELPHIA -- Much of the talk in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal playoff series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres centered on the goaltending matchup.
The Buffalo News even went as far as referring to the Flyers' three starting goalies in the series -- Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton -- as "The Three Stooges."
Tuesday night in Game 7 of their series, the Stooge became the star.
Boucher stopped 26 of 28 shots, and led by a strong defensive effort and a resurgent power play, the Flyers earned a 5-2 victory here at the Wells Fargo Center and a berth in the conference semifinals for the second straight season.
Boucher won all four games in the series -- two as a starter, two in relief. He's first goaltender in NHL history to win twice in relief in the same playoff series.
Tyler Myers and Brad Boyes scored for the Sabres. Goalie Ryan Miller, last season's Vezina Trophy winner, allowed four goals on 28 shots and was pulled from the game two minutes into the third period.
The Sabres, who had a chance to win the series at home in Game 6, were hoping for a spark from the returning Derek Roy, who played his first game since tearing his left quadriceps muscle Dec. 23. He set up Boyes' goal, but had just one shot in 20:10 of ice time.
The Flyers now wait for a pair of Game 7s on Wednesday to determine their next opponent. If the Boston Bruins beat the Montreal Canadiens, the Flyers will play the Bruins in a rematch of last year's historic conference semifinal. If the Canadiens win, Philadelphia will play the winner of the Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay series.
Whoever they play in the next round, it's likely Boucher will be the starter for Game 1. The Flyers became the first team since the 2004 Vancouver Canucks to start three different goaltenders in one playoff series, but it was Boucher who by far was the best. He started and won Games 3 and 7, and played well in relief in winning Games 2 and 6. His only bobble in the series was the first period of Game 5, when he was pulled after allowing three goals on 11 shots in the first period.
Boucher's 2.10 goals-against average and .934 save percentage are fifth among postseason goaltenders.
"I didn't pay much attention to that (goalie talk), to be honest," said Boucher. "I felt pretty good about myself. Aside from three minutes (in Game 5), I felt like I was doing a pretty good job. For me, I just try to focus on myself, knowing where I'm at and how I'm preparing. Not worry about the outside stuff."
While others might have criticized, Boucher had numerous supporters in his locker room.
"He wants it so bad that he motivates us, too," said Claude Giroux. "He's been great, just in practice he's been working so hard. He wants to get better and he wants to help the team. Tonight he was one of the reasons why we won."
Boucher didn't get much work early, as the Flyers held the Sabres without a shot for the final 10:52 of the first period, and held them to just two shots in the opening period. Things picked up after that, but Boucher rarely let up.
"Brian made some terrific saves when the score was 2-0 and 3-0 … and then stayed with it through the entire game," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. "He was rock-solid for our team again today and he really just calms it down and makes it simple in there."
The Flyers dominated in the first period, out-shooting the Sabres 16-2, but couldn't take advantage of it until their final shot of the period, with 18.5 seconds remaining.
Danny Briere beat Paul Gaustad on a faceoff in the right circle in the Buffalo end. The puck went back to Braydon Coburn at the point, and after a few strides to his left, he fired a shot on net that appeared to glance of the glove of Sabres forward Mike Grier and changed direction enough to fool Miller and slip between his pads.
"It was nice to go in with the lead," said Flyers captain Mike Richards. "After you played so well you have something to show for it. You figured that if you kept shooting pucks, they were going to go in. Very rarely against a team like Buffalo do you score pretty goals. Very rarely do you beat Ryan Miller with a clean shot. You just want to throw him pucks and try to get deflections, tips, and some ugly goals."
While the late goal sparked the Flyers, it had a deflating effect on the Sabres.
"We would like to think that maybe we could regroup," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "We were better in the second and third, but some of the plays were caused by the amount of pressure they put on us."
The Flyers, the League's highest-scoring second-period team during the regular season, kept that up during the playoffs, adding two more in the middle 20 minutes of Game 7, and they finished with 10 of their 22 goals in the series in the seven second periods.
The Flyers made it 2-0 on a Briere power-play goal five seconds into a penalty against the Sabres' Tyler Myers. Briere again beat Gaustad on an offensive-zone draw in the faceoff circle to the left of the Buffalo goal. He shoveled the puck over to Giroux, who sent it back to Richards at the right point. Richards fired a shot on net into traffic in front. Miller came out to cut down the angle, but the puck instead went straight through to Briere who had stationed himself on the right post, and had an easy tap-in at 4:45.
Van Riemsdyk made it 3-0 with a power-play goal at 10:19. Claude Giroux fired a shot from the left faceoff circle and van Riemsdyk, screening Miller in front, re-directed it into the Buffalo net.
The Flyers had been 3-for-31 (9.7 percent) on the power play in the first six games; they went 2-for-2 in Game 7.
"Talked about it a lot, worked on it a lot, watched a lot of video," Richards said of the power play. "It's nice to see it paid off. Same mentality as our 5-on-5 (play) -- just get pucks to the net as much as possible. We got some skilled players who sometimes try to make too many perfect plays, and tonight we just got some ugly goals."
Leino made it 4-0 just 1:59 into the third when he blasted a shot from the left circle over Miller's left shoulder for his second of the playoffs.
That ended Miller's night in favor of Jhonas Enroth, who allowed one goal on eight shots in his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut. It was the first time in Miller career he had been pulled from a playoff game.
"It was nothing to do with Ryan's game," Ruff said of removing his goaltender. "I just felt that Jonas had been a part of getting us to this point and he needed to experience a little bit of this. I thought if he could give us a save or a little bit of energy we could fight our way back. It had nothing to do with Ryan's game. In that case you are looking for the opportunity and I actually thought we scared them for a second, but we didn't have enough."
The Sabres did get on the board with Myers' first postseason goal at 6:32 of the third period. When Andrej Meszaros couldn't get the puck out of the Philadelphia zone along the wall, Jochen Hecht -- in his first game since suffering an upper-body injury March 29, found Drew Stafford on left side in the Philadelphia zone. Stafford skated the puck deep and found Myers alone on the right side, and he snapped it past Boucher.
After Carcillo banged in his own rebound to make it 5-1, Boyes snapped a 17-game goal drought dating to March 19. With the Sabres on the power play, Myers sent a shot from the right point to Roy in the slot. He centered a pass that Boyes got his stick on to deflect past Boucher at 15:31.
Boyes' goal snapped a 17-game goal drought, but by then it was too late for the Sabres. They played without key injured players Jason Pominville and Tim Connolly; needed big minutes from Roy and Hecht, who played his first game since March 29 due to an upper-body injury; and got 24 minutes out of an ailing Jordan Leopold.
"We threw in two bodies that haven't played and … you are asking them to play a major role in a Game 7 and Jochen Hecht hasn't even had a practice with the team," said Ruff. "Derek has been out for four months, I know he has been doing conditioning and everything, but there is nothing like playing in games. We had Leopold, who was sick all of last night and we decided to still dress and play him, but he had no energy. There were some guys that were able to muster up some energy and get up ice. I thought Myers and (Tyler) Ennis did. I think there were guys that played more than their role and a guy like Gaustad, who had really given everything he had, maybe lacked a little bit, too, but those guys emptied the tank for me.
"It is not a disappointment, but for four months we have asked them to go above and beyond and they have done everything we have asked. They haven't used an excuse in the book. We lost a lot of good players and we lost our goalie and we found a way to get to this point. The disappointment was that we didn't find a way getting by Game 6."
Meanwhile, the Flyers will spend Wednesday watching and waiting for their next opponent.
"I think tomorrow I'm probably going to sit back and watch as a fan and enjoy those two hockey games," said Briere.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.
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James van Riemsdyk
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