Buffalo, NY - Buffalo's Daniel Briere
tipped in a pass from Jochen Hecht 7:31 into the second overtime to spoil a spectacular effort by Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Robert Esche to take Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, 3-2.
Briere stationed himself to Esche's left, and got his stick on a cross-ice pass by Hecht after being left alone in front of the crease. Esche made 55 saves in recording the loss.
Philadelphia erased a 2-0 deficit to force the overtime. Mike Knuble cut the lead in half when he found the rebound of a blast by Denis Gauthier from the point at 16:34 of the second period. Knuble has now scored a goal in nine straight games against Buffalo.
Sabres defenseman Toni Lydman was pressured into a delay of game penalty at 17:22 of the third period and Philadelphia capitalized. Peter Forsberg controlled the puck high between the faceoff circles as Knuble and Simon Gagne were around the net. Forsberg's pass went to Knuble to the left of Ryan Miller before bouncing to the other side of the crease where Gagne lifted it in with 1:51 left in regulation.
Buffalo was outshooting Philadelphia 41-21 after three periods.
"The reason why we went to overtime tonight was because of the goaltending," said Gagne.
The first overtime featured great chances and goaltending but the game remained tied. Esche stopped Hecht on a two-on-one rush, and then smothered the rebound attempt by Paul Gaustad midway through.
His best save, however, came when he kicked out his right pad at the last second to stuff Chris Drury's wraparound on a Buffalo power play. Philadelphia killed off three Sabres power plays in the first overtime and was 9-for-9 overall.
Miller was also on his game, stopping Gagne in front of the net early on and then holding onto a slap shot by Knuble after a steal in the Sabres' zone.
Miller also got some help from the post on a shot from close range by Sami Kapanen just over seven minutes into the overtime.
The series resumes on Monday night in Buffalo for Game Two before shifting to the Wachovia Center for Games Three and Four beginning on Wednesday.
Esche was the clearly the reason the Flyers almost pulled out the victory.
"He'll come back and play the same way the next time. He's focused, and this is the goalie that we had in '04. He'll play like this every night," said Ken Hitchcock.
"I felt like I was in the zone, but you never feel good when you give up one more goal than the other team," said Esche. "It's a process and it's part of it, and we just have to put it behind us and move on. That's why they play seven games."
Buffalo took a 1-0 lead when Tim Connolly stripped Forsberg of the puck in front of the net and backhanded it past Esche for an unassisted goal at 5:20.
The Flyers' penalty-killing unit was put to the test early in the second period when Eric Desjardins was whistled for hooking just 28 seconds into the frame. He joined Knuble in the penalty box to give the Sabres over a minute of time with a two-man advantage but Philadelphia successfully killed it off.
Buffalo did, however, increase its lead to 2-0 shortly after that when a weak wrist shot by Jay McKee from along the boards floated through traffic and behind Esche, who did not appear to see the puck at all on the play.
The Sabres kept the pressure, but Esche stopped Thomas Vanek's redirection attempt alone in front of the net and Maxim Afinogenov rang one off of the post after McKee's goal.
Philadelphia picked up the pace late in the second period before Knuble was able to finally solve Miller, who was making his playoff debut. Knuble almost got the equalizer on a power play late in the second period as well, but a video review showed that be knocked in the puck with a high stick.
"It took us almost a period and a half to get up to the pace of the game, and then I thought once we got up to the pace of the game we were much better in the second half of the game and in the overtimes than we were at the start," said Hitchcock. "We were a little behind the pace at the start and then really got going. It was some good stuff there at the end."FLYERS NOTES
Knuble was cut with a high stick in front of his own net in the first period, but no penalty was called. … The Flyers are in the playoffs for 11th straight season, tied with Colorado for the second-longest current streak in the NHL. … Philadelphia has faced Buffalo in the playoffs seven times winning five of those, but lost in six games in the 2001 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. … A dazed R.J. Umberger had to be helped off of the ice after a solid hit by Brian Campbell in the first overtime and did not return.