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by Rob Crean / Buffalo Sabres
It seems like the more the Buffalo Sabres are challenged, the more the team responds.

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Playing much of Game 5 in Philadelphia without one of its most important players in Jason Pominville, the Sabres found a way to bend but not break and win a huge overtime game to take a 3-2 series lead heading back to Buffalo on Sunday as Tyler Ennis scored his second goal of the game in the extra frame to end it.

Pominville, who assisted on Buffalo’s third goal of the first period, left the game soon after and did not return.  Head Coach Lindy Ruff told the media on Saturday that Pominville “won’t be available to play tomorrow” in Game 6.  In a related move, Ruff said that Buffalo has recalled forward Matt Ellis from Portland of the American Hockey League.

Without Pominville, the team’s second leading scorer in the postseason and a fixture on both the power play and penalty kill units, Ruff expects his team to respond like it has all year in the face of adversity.

“It’s really the attitude we have to take, no excuses.  We need other guys to step up in some peoples’ absence.  We’ve had some defenseman go down, we’ve had young defensemen who have had to step in.  You can look at Gragnani’s play… without that type of play, we wouldn’t be in the series where we’re at.”

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Ryan Miller, who turned aside 36 of 39 shots in the Game 5 victory, reiterated that Pominville’s absence will be an opportunity for other players to fill the void on Sunday.

“Jason is a tremendous player for us, does everything for us.  He kills penalties, power play, regular shifts.  He’s a guy you look to in big moments,” Miller said.  “We’ll definitely be missing him, but it’s an opportunity for somebody else to step up.  Like we have to say all the time, it’s unfortunate we have to have this kind of a talk about it, but it gives somebody and opportunity and hopefully they step up and take it.”

I think that’s what the playoffs are all about. It’s a new level of desperation, it’s realizing that one shot could make a difference. I think the penalty killers have done a tremendous job. With Pommer out for tomorrow, we’re going to have to have one more guy step in and kill some penalties for us.” - Head Coach Lindy Ruff
The Sabres have dealt with injuries to key players throughout the season and will take the ice on Sunday with the chance to close out the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the Flyers on home ice, and Buffalo expects it to be the toughest game yet.

“The guys have dug in and we’ve got ourselves in a good spot, but I think we know this game coming up here tomorrow is probably going to be the toughest, hardest game a lot of guys in here have played in,” said veteran Mike Grier. 

Miller added, “We know it’s a race to four (wins) and we have to close it out.  It’s something where it’s been a tight series all the way. A lot of the games could have gone in either direction, so we’re prepared for what could be the toughest game of the series (tomorrow) and we expect it to be the toughest game of the series.”

Ennis Comes Up Big: Tyler Ennis had been kept of the scoresheet for the most part during the first four games of the series, but the rookie winger came up with the biggest goal of the series to win Game 5 for Buffalo.  The 21-year-old had some fun in the process.

“The first couple of games I was a little nervous and I wasn’t playing too well.  I thought I was going to be a little nervous heading to overtime, but I was actually really excited and I couldn’t wait for it to start,” he explained.  “I just really wanted to score. I was kind of picturing myself scoring and it was exciting and pretty cool that it actually did happen. I’m glad it did.”

Ennis, who also scored the game’s first goal, impressed his coach with his demeanor and his play.

“It puts a smile on your face when you see a guy like that play the way he did. Then he makes the comments about ‘what a great place to play’ and ‘this is so much fun’ and it’s always typically been one of the toughest buildings to go into,” said Ruff.

While Ennis was a late season call-up last year and got a taste of the playoffs in the six-game loss to Boston, he emerged this season as one of Buffalo’s top offensive players, finishing with 49 points (20 goals, 29 assists) to rank fourth among all NHL rookies and fifth on the Sabres.  By scoring his second goal of Friday’s game in overtime, Ennis became the first Sabres rookie to score an overtime playoff goal since Pominville scored the series-clinching goal in overtime in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Ottawa on May 13, 2006.

“I think last year he was just happy to kind of be there. I think this year he understands that he’s a big player,” Miller said of Ennis.  “We need him to be creative and we need him to also be smart.  That creativity has to come in situations where it’s a little bit safer with the puck, knowing that the Flyers are a team that can thrive on turnovers.  Last night was a great example of that where he got loose and a lot of his moves were separation that led to some great chances.”

“Help is on its way”: While the Sabres suffered a loss with Pominville being out for Game 6, Ruff offered some good news on the injury front regarding centers Derek Roy and Jochen Hecht. Roy has been out since Christmas time with a torn quad tendon and Hecht has not played since Mar. 29 due to an upper body injury.

“Derek is very close.  Very close.  I would put him in the category of within days,” said Ruff.  “Jochen Hecht is a matter of days, too.  Help is on its way.”

Ruff did not specify exactly when either player might return to the lineup.
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