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Sabres Take Game 1 In Two OTs

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres first playoff game in five years had everything a fan could have wanted. The first game of the best of seven playoff series between Buffalo and the Philadelphia Flyers featured five goals, exceptional performances by two goaltenders, two overtimes, a bone-jarring hit and 90-combined shots on goal.

In the end after 87 minutes of hockey, Buffalo walked away with a 3-2 victory in the second overtime after Daniel Briere redirected Jochen Hecht's feed from the left wing.

"What a great feeling it is to score an overtime goal in an NHL playoff game," said Briere. "I can't imagine it could get much better, except for winning the Cup."

Following the game, head coach Lindy Ruff deemed the game an "instant classic."

"Anybody who didn't see it, might want to watch it," said Ruff.

Simon Gagne put the game into overtime with less than two minutes remaining in regulation with Toni Lydman in the penalty box for delay of game. Receiving a Peter Forsberg feed from the point, Mike Knuble chipped the puck to Gagne, who roofed a shot over Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller at 18:09 of the third.

"We came out skated well and generated a lot of opportunities," Ruff said. "We just didn't finish."

"We let them hang around and took a careless penalty late that allowed them the opportunity to tie the game."

Buffalo logged 12 or more shots in each of the first three periods, and out shot Philadelphia 58-32 in the game. Tim Connolly scored the team's first goal five minutes into the opening period, while Jay McKee increased Buffalo's lead to a pair five minutes into the second period.

"We had a two-goal lead, they came back and we had to battle through it," said Connolly. "We had a lot of chances, to finally get one and win the first game of the series is really important to us."

Robert Esche was absolutely spectacular for Philadelphia making 55 saves in the defeat. Ryan Miller backstopped the Sabres to victory with 30 saves in his first career post-season appearance.

"He made a lot of fabulous saves," said Ruff of Esche's performance. "(Chris) Drury's wraparound looked like it was going to be an empty netter and he made a heck of a save on that one. He was seeing the puck and reading the plays really well."

Henrik Tallinder proved that defensemen are a goaltender's best friend. Off a turnover in Buffalo's zone, Tallinder blocked Peter Forsberg's wristshot towards an empty net with his skate just seconds into the game.

Connolly stripped Forsberg in front of Esche, waited for the goalie to commit and slipped a backhand shot into the net from a bad angle for his first career playoff goal and a 1-0 Buffalo lead at 5:20.

Buffalo took a two-goal lead with a goal from an unlikely candidate.

Receiving a drop pass from Brian Campbell at Philadelphia's blue line, Jay McKee snapped a wristshot that found its way through traffic and into the top right corner of the net at 4:33 of the second.

Always seeming to be around the puck or creating opportunities for others, Jochen Hecht was screening Esche on McKee's second playoff goal of his career.

It took nearly 37 minutes of hockey for Miller to allow a goal, but after Philadelphia held the puck in Buffalo's zone for nearly 30 seconds the inevitable happened.

Fighting his way to the front of the net, Mike Knuble collected the rebound off Denis Gauthier's slapshot from the left point and fired into a wide-open net to make the score 2-1 at the 16:34 mark of the second.

Gagne tied the game on the power-play at 18:09 of the third.

Philadelphia hadn't recorded this first shot of the period until five minutes before the game-tying goal.

Briere finished the game at 7:31 of the second overtime.
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