PHILADELPHIA -- Ilya Bryzgalov summed up the Philadelphia Flyers' mindset in regard to their place in the Eastern Conference standings.
"We all can read and we all can count," he said of a conference leaderboard that showed the Flyers, after three straight losses, 11th in the conference entering Sunday's game, three points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers.
They did their best to cut into that deficit Sunday, getting goals from Simon Gagne, Maxime Talbot and Claude Giroux, and hung on for a 3-2 victory against the visiting Buffalo Sabres.
Brian Flynn and Jochen Hecht scored for the Sabres, and Ryan Miller made 25 saves as Buffalo saw its winless skid hit four games (0-2-2). The Sabres also lost forward Tyler Ennis to an upper-body injury when he was hit hard into the boards by the Flyers' Wayne Simmonds with 4:06 left in the first period.
Giroux's power-play goal 17 seconds into the second period turned out to be the game-winner, and it stayed that way thanks to four blocked shots, two solid penalty kills and one game-saving swipe of the puck off the goal line by Brayden Schenn in the third period.
Just over a minute Hecht's shorthanded goal at 4:32 of the third made it a one-goal game, the Sabres rushed the puck into the Philadelphia zone. Cody Hodgson ripped a shot from the right side that Bryzgalov appeared to stop, but the puck squirmed between his pads and trickled toward the goal line. A backchecking Schenn was able to pull the puck from behind the goalie to preserve the Flyers' one-goal lead.
"I just remember it was just 2-on-2 from the red line in," Schenn said. "They shot it, it must have deflected and I actually thought [Bryzgalov] made the save originally. I saw it squeak through. I don't know how close it was, I haven't seen the replay yet, but it's always good to help the goalie out."
The play certainly was huge, as replays showed the puck sitting on the goal line before Schenn arrived.
"It's huge," Giroux said. "One game, you just stick to those little details. Now that you look at it, it's obviously huge."
Bryzgalov made 20 saves to pick up his 12th win while starting his National Hockey League-high 25th game of the season, including 10 straight. His best save came with 2:17 left in the second and the Flyers leading 3-1, when he stopped Christian Ehrhoff from a sharp angle to his right, then was able to push across and do the splits to get his left pad on Hodgson's one-timer on the rebound from the slot.
"There wasn't a lot of action going on in the second period and all of a sudden there's a point-blank chance and Bryzgalov makes a big save for us to keep the score what it was," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "I think there's always key points in the game that you can look back on that we know we needed to do something and somebody did."
The Sabres had chances to tie the game beyond the fantastic saves by Bryzgalov and Schenn. They had two third-period power plays, but their extra-man unit, which entered the game 30th in the League, went 0-for-3 with just one shot.
"I don't think we hurt ourselves 5-on-5," Sabres captain Jason Pominville said. "We gave up a shorthanded goal and we gave up two or three power-play goals. I think our special teams put us in trouble. Our 5-on-5 play obviously wasn't where we wanted it to be, but it didn't get us in trouble. It was more our special teams."
The Flyers dominated the first half of the first period holding the Sabres without a shot for the first 11:42, but Buffalo's first shot led to their first goal, as Flynn scored off the rebound of Kevin Porter's shot at 11:43.
By then, though, they were down 2-0. Gagne scored on the power play after his shot from the left side squeezed between Miller's pads. At 8:47, Talbot finished a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush started after a turnover by the Sabres' Steve Ott at the Philadelphia blue line.
"We obviously didn't have the start we wanted and knew what we were getting into," Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston said. "We obviously started off on the wrong foot. … That's more my responsibility. I've got to do a better job there. We've got to be ready to go. We didn't have enough urgency or desperation off the start."
The Sabres took penalties in the final minute of the first and second periods, with a high-sticking penalty on Hecht with 58.4 seconds left in the first leading to Giroux's extra-man goal in the first minute of the second -- according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the fourth time he's scored in the first 60 seconds of a period. Giroux took a drop pass from Kimmo Timonen, entered the Buffalo zone with speed, split a pair of defenders, and as Robyn Regehr gave ground, fired a shot from the right circle that beat Miller to the short side, over his glove.
"I think we made a mistake on the way we wanted to pressure," Pominville said. "He obviously has the ability to make something happen and he came out full-speed. We want him to drop the puck early to someone else and he was able to skate it and it ends up in the back of our net."
The Flyers enter a two-day break before a home-and-home set with the New Jersey Devils starting Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center in a good mood, and focused on the next step up the standings.
"Big two games -- may be the two biggest games of the season for us," Gagne said. "After that, it could be a big difference where we're going to be."