It all comes down to a seventh and deciding game in this close-as-can-be conference quarterfinal series between the Sabres and Flyers. The two franchises are battling in the postseason for the ninth time, but will play one another in a Game 7 for the first time.
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The series has featured 1-0 shutouts, overtime games, blown leads, back-and-forth scoring, lots of physical play and injuries to key players on both sides.
For Ryan Miller
, who has played in two conference finals, one Game 7 and an Olympic gold medal game in his career, the trick will be to stay on an even keel and continue to work hard.
“Trying to eliminate a team or trying to stay alive or being in a situation like this, you just have to go out and put it all on the table,” Miller said. “It’s where you just hope to go out there and have the ability to play a good, calm hockey game. Sometimes being over-excited can hurt, being nervous can hurt. I don’t think there’s any reason to be any of that. I think we’ve done well in this series and battled hard. We can just go out and put it on the table and play our game.”
The Sabres had the chance to eliminate the Flyers in Buffalo on Sunday but came up just short. Head Coach Lindy Ruff has already put that game behind him and wants his team to embrace the new opportunity that lies in front of them.
“The frustration of losing (Game 6) is already gone,” Ruff said following Monday’s practice. “We’re already on to the next page. There wouldn’t be a better place to win a Game 7 than to go into Philly.
“I said to the team, ‘wrap your arms around this, enjoy it, put a smile on your face. They’ve got some pressure they’re going to face playing at home. We want to get on our toes and play our game.”
“We’ve played good on the road all year and obviously we know what’s at stake and we’ll be ready for it. I just know that we can win there. Going back to the last three months of the season, I thought we were really sharp on the road, so it’s a place where we feel comfortable… Every second we’re aware of (what’s at stake), but at the end of the day, you’ve still got to play, so that’s all we’re worried about.” - Sabres Forward Thomas Vanek
In the past two postseasons, the road team in a seventh and deciding game of a series has gone 8-2, including 4-0 during the 2010 playoffs.
“We’ve played good on the road all year and obviously we know what’s at stake and we’ll be ready for it,” said Thomas Vanek
, who leads the Sabres with five postseason goals, in regard to playing Game 7 at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center. “I just know that we can win there. Going back to the last three months of the season, I thought we were really sharp on the road, so it’s a place where we feel comfortable… Every second we’re aware of (what’s at stake), but at the end of the day, you’ve still got to play, so that’s all we’re worried about.”
Five of the first six games in the series have been decided by one goal with the exception of Game 3, which Philadelphia won 4-2 after adding an empty-net goal in the final moments. As a result, the players know what to expect.
“Every game’s been tight, every game’s been right there. It’s just another hockey game in this series. It’s a race to four (wins). We just have to go out and be calm and set the tone,” Miller said.
There is another theme in this series that may continue in Game 7: the long-awaited return of a star player.
While Philadelphia inserted defenseman Chris Pronger into its lineup for Game 6, Ruff said he is hopeful that Derek Roy
will be able to play in Game 7 for the first time since Dec. 23.
Ruff told the media in his postgame press conference on Sunday that he expected Roy to be ready to play on Tuesday. On Monday, he said regarding Roy: “I was hopeful, but I don't know, we'll see. I hope he can play, we’ll see tomorrow morning.”
If he is called upon to play in Game 7, Roy said he would be ready.
“I put it a lot of hard work and it’s a credit to the coaching staff and the trainers and everybody that helped me along the way. It’s been a tough road, four months, and I’m back, ready to go. It’s going to feel good… We’re waiting for the right moment and this work has paid off. I came in every morning – first in, last out – so it’s been a long road but it’s been a good journey,” Roy told the media after practice on Monday. “These guys worked hard to get to the playoffs all season long and I’m not going to let them down with my work ethic. I’m going to go out there and work just as hard, if not harder, than everybody else.”
Miller is among those who are excited at the possibility of Roy’s return.
“It was a devastating injury for him and for us, and I’m glad we’re playing hockey long enough where he’s back, and hopefully he can jump in and some have some fun because it’s been a great series thus far and it’s been a fun playoffs, so it’s good to see him get in the mix. It’d be a shame if he had to miss out on this time of year,” said Miller.
The excitement for Roy’s possible return is tempered by the fact that it coincides with the loss of yet another crucial player due to injury for the Sabres. Tim Connolly left Game 6 after he was shoved head-first into the boards from behind by Flyers captain Mike Richards. Richards received a two-minute minor for roughing on the play, but Connolly left the game and did not return. He has been ruled out of Game 7 by Ruff.
Connolly recorded two assists in the series and was instrumental in a penalty killing unit that has killed off 90.3% of its shorthanded situations in the postseason. Connolly leads all Buffalo forwards in shorthanded ice time in the series (4:01 per game) and plays on the first power play unit as well. His injury comes one game after Jason Pominville
sustained an injury.
Gragnani nears team record:
Rookie defenseman continued to impress on Sunday by picking up two more assists, logging over 21 minutes of ice time and was not on the ice for any of Philadelphia’s goals.
The AHL’s Outstanding Defenseman for this season continues to lead the Sabres in playoff scoring with seven points (one goal, six assists), which ranks tied for third in the NHL entering play on Monday. His six assists are tied for the NHL lead and leave Gragnani one helper shy of tying the Sabres franchise record for most assists in a playoff series. The record is currently shared by Gilbert Perreault, who had seven assists in a playoff series three different times, Dale Hawerchuk and Miroslav Satan.