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Sabres Take Series in Six

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
In a series dubbed the old NHL vs. new NHL, the Buffalo Sabres' speed was never more evident than in Game Six. Buffalo's quicker squad converted on three odd-man rushes and walked away from the Wachovia Center with a resounding 7-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in the deciding game of the series on Tuesday night.

"The good chances they gave us, or ones that we earned in some cases, we finished," said head coach Lindy Ruff. "It wasn't that we stacked up a whole bunch of them, we just made sure we put them down when we got the opportunity."

In a series where the home team had won every game, Buffalo clinched a berth to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals aftering dominating the pivotal game in a hostile environment. The team vanquished the Flyers in the best-of-seven series four games to two.

The Sabres will now face the Ottawa Senators in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dates and times are yet to be determined.

After falling behind two games to none in the series, Philadelphia forced Game Six by winning the first two meeting in the Wachovia Center. Buffalo claimed Game Five, 3-0, on Sunday night back home to take a three-games-to-two lead heading into Tuesday.

"Losing a couple of games was a good experience for us," Ruff said. "Not that you want to lose games, but you realize how difficult it is to win game-in, game-out. We got careless, sloppy and weren't able to make the plays in a close game that allowed us to win."

With their best start of the series, Philadelphia controlled play and buzzed around Buffalo's zone for the first 10 minutes of play. But as has happened in each game of the series, Buffalo would score the all-important first goal.

Cutting to the right post, Mike Grier slammed home Chris Drury's across-crease feed for his second goal of the series at 11:16. The Sabres would never trail after that point, and the goal seemed to invigorate Buffalo's attack while deflating Philadelphia's.

Following the game, Ruff fingered the depth of the Sabres lineup as the reason for Buffalo's success during the series.

"The fact that scoring came from every line," said Ruff of the most significant factor of the series for Buffalo. "Tonight it was Derek Roy, Drury and Grier. There were some other guys, but they were the main cog that did that scoring."

"I don't really think you can put a finger on one of our lines and hold us back. The thing about our team and it has been all year, if one line is getting frustrated there is two or three lines that always pick us up."

"It was shocking for everybody," said Philadelphia head coach Ken Hitchcock. "It was over bang, bang, bang. I have never been through anything like this. They had a game plan and they took advantage of that plan."

The Sabres top defensive line, which is also sometimes referred to as the checking line, combined for 13 points (4+9), 13 shots on goal and a plus/minus rating of plus-12. Drury led the group with two goals and two assists.

"We wanted to come out strong," said Jason Pominville, who recorded a goal and an assist. "We knew they were going to come out strong because their backs were to the wall."

"We got the first one and the crowd went down a little bit. We just kept working at it and got the next two late in the period."

With less than three minutes remaining before the first intermission, Ales Kotalik rifled a wristshot that beat Robert Esche five-hole and increased the Sabres lead to a pair at 17:34.

Two minutes later and with less than a minute remaining on the clock, Buffalo made the score 3-0 after converting on a costly turnover by Peter Forsberg in Philadelphia's zone. Collecting an arrant pass by the All-Star center, Drury pivoted and fired a centering pass that Grier redirected on net. Esche stopped the deflection with a kick save but allowed a rebound to the left wing, which Roy one-timed over the netminder's right pad.

"When they gave-up a goal in the last two minutes of the first period, that's as big a blow as you can suffer when you are in your building and can get out of the period 1-0," Ruff said. "To give-up two quick goals really puts you at a disadvantage going into the second."

"We've had some young guys that struggled in the series, and I thought Derek had struggled," said Ruff, whose team outscored Philadelphia during the series 13-2 in the first period during the playoffs. "It's not totally unexpected. I think you see that in the playoffs."

Buffalo's speed continued to give the Flyers fits in the second, scoring on two rushes to begin the period.

Jumping off the bench Pominville joined a three-on-one break, received a drop pass from Toni Lydman and fired to give Buffalo a four-goal lead at 3:05. The shorthanded goal was Pominville's fourth of the post-season.

On a two-on-one, Maxim Afinogenov buried Daniel Briere's across-ice feed for his second goal of the post season, expanding Buffalo's lead to five at 7:19 of the second.

"With our speed, it's hard to contain us," Pominville said. "That's pretty much what we did the entire series."

After allowing the fifth Sabres goal on just 17 shots, Esche was replaced by rookie Antero Niittymaki. On the other end of the ice, Ryan Miller allowed just one goal off 22 shots.

Using Mike Richards as a pick on Jay McKee, Branko Radivojevic charged the net and slipped a shot just inside the right post at the 18:57 mark.

On another two-on-one break, Drury scored his first of the game to regain Buffalo's five-goal lead. With Mike Rathje all alone in front of Niittymaki, Roy slid an across-ice pass around the defenseman to Drury, who skated through the slot and snapped a backhander at the semi-open net. Diving to the right post, Niittymaki stopped the offering with a miraculous stick save, but couldn't deny Drury's second-chance effort with just 14 seconds remaining in the middle frame.

Just over two minutes into the third, Drury scored his second goal while Buffalo was shorthanded. With Taylor Pyatt in the penalty box for high-sticking, Grier stripped Freddy Myer behind the net with an aggressive forecheck and slipped a blind pass to Drury at the left post. The center one-timed the puck into the far side of the net for his third of the post season at 2:12.
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Quotes courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.
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