Thursday, December 18, 2014

Flyers comeback halted in OT

Sabres 4, Flyers 3

Flyers comeback halted in OT

Brian Boucher allowed three goals on 11 shots against Buffalo before being benched. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Brian Boucher allowed three goals on 11 shots against Buffalo before being benched. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

At first, this was going to be a story about the disaster that was Brian Boucher’s night in the Flyers’ goal, and about how coach Peter Laviolette, now desperate, has spun the wheel of goaltending roulette one more time.

Then it became a story about something completely different.

The Flyers, to their everlasting credit, down by 3-0 in the first period -- and doesn’t that sound familiar? -- fashioned the kind of comeback that would have considered amazing if we all hadn’t seen them do the impossible last spring in the playoffs against Boston.

So it was with, well, routine amazement that we watched them tie it with two goals in the second period and one in the third. From there it was into overtime. And at 5:31, it was Tyler Ennis who finally won it, scoring on a rebound.

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And now we all get to see what the Flyers have left after falling behind in the series by three games to two. Game 6, the first elimination game of the series, is Sunday afternoon in Buffalo.

The start of the Game 5 was an abject disaster for the Flyers. Boucher allowed goals by Ennis and Thomas Vanek that were from angles so sharp as to be Euclidian impossibilities. They were the worst two goals allowed by the Flyers in the playoffs since...

Oh, hey, Michael Leighton is back.

Actually, Boucher was not pulled until after the third goal, this one by Marc-Andre Gragnani, with 4:24 left in the first period. In the tunnel, he threw his helmet and violently attacked a nearby rack of sticks. But that damage was minor compared to what he had committed on the ice.

There was no reason to see it coming. Boucher had never had anything approaching that kind of a game in the playoffs before, not ever. There was no hint in earlier series games, either. His best game, in fact, might have been his 1-0 defeat in Game 4 on Wednesday night in Buffalo.

But this was a disaster, even worse the Game 2 disaster authored by Sergei Bobrovsky; remember him? Anyway, Boucher was out and now Leighton was in. He had been pulled twice in the Stanley Cup Final last season, and then he hurt his back, and then he spent the season in the minors, and now he’s back in net for a team that prefers either to balance upon the high wire or to wrap it around its own neck.

Leighton had a pretty good seat for the kind of comeback that the Flyers now seem to attempt every year. Last season, it was the historic Game 7 in the second round against Boston -- and the first goal came from James Van Riemsdyk. This time, it was Van Riemsdyk again, on a rebound that he was able to corral with his long reach and slip it around Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller.

That was at 8:12 of the second period. Less than 2 minutes later, the score was 3-2 courtesy of an Andrej Meszaros blast from about 50 feet. The Wells Fargo Center had gotten back into on the Van Riemsdyk goal -- and, really, in the minutes leading up to it as the Flyers pressured the Buffalo net. The building was convulsing after the Meszaros goal. And when Danny Briere scored on a pass from Mike Richards from behind the net in the third period, it was 3-3 and it was bedlam.

The Sabres, to their credit, pulled themselves together and had the better of the play for the next few minutes. But Leighton was good, and the game settled into the kind of nervous affair that is so familiar to anyone who has ever watched playoff hockey.

As time ticked down, everyone know that the next mistake might lose it, or the next bounce might win it.

Ennis got the bounce, a big one off of the pad of Leighton after a point shot by Buffalo’s Mike Weber.

Rich Hofmann Daily News Sports Columnist
About this blog
Rich Hofmann arrived at the Daily News in 1980 for a job whose status was officially designated as "full-time, temporary." A senior at Penn at the time, he was hired to fill in on the copy desk during a staff illness. The notion of him covering the Eagles or being a columnist did not exist in anyone's imagination. It was supposed to be six weeks and out, but he never left. It is only one of the reasons why so many people have concerns about him as a potential house guest. Rich has blogged the postseasons of the Flyers and Eagles. E-mail Rich at hofmanr@phillynews.com Reach Rich at hofmanr@phillynews.com.

Rich Hofmann Daily News Sports Columnist
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