Philadelphia, PA – The Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres skated to a 1-1 tie through 65 minutes of play, but it was Buffalo that prevailed in the shootout as the Sabres won their ninth straight road game at the Wachovia Center, 2-1.
Maxim Afinogenov's goal on Antero Niittymaki was the game-winner, as he broke a 1-1 tie after three shooters apiece. Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller stopped Mike Knuble to end the game. Philadelphia had two chances to win the shootout after Peter Forsberg scored on the Flyers' second shot, but Niittymaki could not stop Tim Connolly and Miller denied Jon Sim before Afinogenov's goal.
By forcing overtime, the Flyers pulled to within one point of the New York Rangers for first place in the Atlantic Division. Philadelphia has played two fewer games.
"We played a great game. The first and third period we were excellent. We could have had a lot of goals tonight," said Ken Hitchcock. "We did a lot really good things and we got a really great effort from a lot of people tonight. They gave us a little bit of a push in the second period, but we really pushed back in the third period. We showed the type of hockey club we are now, and the type of hockey club we're going to be in the next thirty days."
"I don't think we played a bad game. I think we played pretty well tonight," said Forsberg. "We played a good team. We played a solid defensive game and [Niittymaki] was good. He had to be, but overall all of the guys contributed, playing great defense."
Knuble, who was named to the United States Olympic Team along with Robert Esche and Derian Hatcher earlier in the evening, opened the scoring. Camped out at the side of the crease with the Flyers on a power play, Knuble was fed by Forsberg on a pass through the slot. Knuble was denied at first but was there to deposit the rebound at 4:25 of the second period.
Buffalo outshot the Flyers 14-6 in the period, but still struggled to get scoring chances in front of goaltender Niittymaki.
The Sabres were finally able to solve Niittymaki when Afinogenov beat Mike Rathje to the outside and centered the puck to Paul Gaustad for a one-timer at 7:12. The goal came shortly after a couple of spectacular saves by Niittymaki, including a kick save at point blank range on a rebound chance by Adam Mair just over three minutes into the period.
"It's about seven games in a row he's played well right now and I like the way that he is playing," said Hitchcock. "He's giving us a chance to win every night."
"We have a lot of guys hurt and there are guys who have to step up and get more ice time," said Niittymaki. "You have to play as a team when your key guys are out and everybody has to play well."
Both teams were forced to kill key penalties before the shootout. First, Philadelphia could not capitalize when Rory Fitzpatrick was called for tripping at 17:53 of regulation. The Flyers' penalty-killing unit came through at the end of overtime when Michal Handzus was whistled for interference at 3:19.
The Flyers will have one more home game on Thursday against the Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa Senators before they begin an 11-game road trip on December 23 in Pittsburgh.
A couple of fights highlighted the first period, which was scoreless. Josh Gratton and Andrew Peters dropped the gloves just 1:53 into the game, and then Gratton tangled with Mair after Mair almost collided with Jeff Carter. Both Gratton and Peters landed some good shots in the first battle, while the fight with Mair ended with neither player connecting with anything significant.
Philadelphia's best scoring chance in the frame came when Brian Savage made a move between the legs of Fitzpatrick on a one-on-one, and then his diving shot went just wide of the goal. Fitzpatrick was called for tripping on the play, but Philadelphia was unable to capitalize.
FLYERS NOTES Donald Brashear returned to the lineup after missing the last three games with a strained left shoulder. â€¦ Carter played after missing Saturday's game in St. Louis with a lacerated left ear. â€¦ Esche, Simon Gagne, Mike Richards and Turner Stevenson all remained out due to injury. â€¦ Martin Biron, who served as the Sabres' backup goaltender, has won his last 13 starts.