BUFFALO, N.Y. – Even notoriously secretive Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette could not keep up a charade questioning who will start in net for Game 7 of his team's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Buffalo Sabres.
Speaking after Ville Leino's second goal of the playoffs 4:43 into overtime gave the Flyers a 5-4 win that evened their best-of-seven series at three games a piece, Laviolette smiled, paused for a moment and then, for the first time in the series, confirmed who will be in goal when the puck drops for Game 7 on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
"Yes, Brian Boucher will start Game 7," Laviolette said.
There really could be no other choice.
Boucher, who Laviolette sent to the bench following three goals on 11 shots in Game 5, stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced once he replaced Michael Leighton to start the second period on Sunday at HSBC Arena.
"I can't say enough about him, a guy that wants to start tonight and doesn't get it … there's a reason why he did go on the bench and it was because of what happened tonight," Laviolette said. "Brian expects to start and I respect that about him. He had an opportunity to come in and help this team live for another day and he was tremendous."
It was the second stellar relief performance of the series for Boucher, who won Game 2 in relief of Sergei Bobrovsky, won Game 3 and stopped 28 of 29 shots in a 1-0 loss in Game 4.
Leighton got the call for Sunday's must-win game after he stopped 20 of 21 shots in a Philadelphia's 4-3 loss to the Sabres on Friday.
A trio of stoppable goals on eight shots on Sunday left Laviolette explaining why he opted to start Leighton, who helped Philadelphia reach the Stanley Cup Final last year but only played one game in the NHL this season.
"The way he looked when he came up here in practice, he looked good," Laviolette said. "We had him on the bench, he came in a relief opportunity and he continued to look good. Decisions are tough and it didn't go that way tonight for him. But I still think Michael Leighton is a heck of a goaltender."
Leino's unassisted goal silenced a packed HSBC Arena and stopped the cheering of an estimated 7,000 Sabres fans who watched on televisions in an outdoor plaza as their team blew leads of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-3.
"I was almost too excited, I think I missed it once and finally got it in so a lucky bounce there," said Leino. "I think we were a little nervous at the beginning, but after a couple shifts you get into it and you feel normal."
For a long while, it looked like Nathan Gerbe's 35-foot slap shot that snuck past Boucher with 3:51 left in the second period might stand up as the winner for the underdog Sabres.
"I asked [Flyers defenseman Sean O’Donnell] on the bench if it hit his stick afterwards because I was so confused as to why it dropped and he said it for sure it his stick," said Boucher. "I was like 'Maybe he was lying to me to make me feel better.' But it made sense afterwards because I really felt it was going high and it ended up underneath my glove. It fooled me."
Scott Hartnell's goal that tied the game 4-4 at the 10:43 mark of the third period took Boucher -- and Leighton -- off the hook.
Former Sabres forward Danny Briere added two goals for the Flyers and James van Riemsdyk had the other goal for the visitors.
Rob Niedermayer opened the scoring for the Sabres 2:13 into the period and Thomas Vanek added a pair of goals in a losing effort.
"Obviously it would have been nice to lock it down tonight and we had chances to do so, but weren't able to," said Vanek. "But we played good on the road all year, so we're going to rely on that."