Flyers pitting youth vs. maturity in goalie matchup with Buffalo

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Sergei Bobrovsky (right) will be the Flyers' starting goaltender when the playoffs begin Thursday. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)

At first glance, the goalie matchup should give the Buffalo Sabres a huge advantage over the Flyers in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series that begins Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center.

In one net will be Buffalo's Ryan Miller, the onetime U.S. Olympic hero who appears fully recovered from an apparent collarbone injury that sidelined him for four late-season games. The 30-year-old Miller, the Vezina Trophy winner as the league's top goalie in 2009-10, has played in 40 playoff games in his eight-year career.

In the other net will be acrobatic-but-raw Sergei Bobrovsky, 22, who had an impressive rookie year but went through some ups and downs in the second half of the Flyers' season.

Can you say mismatch?

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Who has the best beard?

Not so fast.

Last year, the same was being said when the Flyers' Brian Boucher was matched against New Jersey's legendary Martin Brodeur in the conference quarterfinals.

All Boucher did was go 4-1 with a 1.59 goals-against average and .940 save percentage in the series.

Brodeur? The future Hall of Famer lost four of five starts and had a 3.01 GAA and just an .881 save percentage.

Oh, and the numbers posted by Miller and Bobrovsky are nearly identical this season.

Miller was 34-22-8 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.

Bobrovsky was 28-13-8 with a 2.59 GAA and .915 save percentage.

In the teams' four meetings this season, Bobrovsky slightly outplayed Miller as each side won two games.

Miller, who helped the United States win a silver Olympic medal last year, was 2-2 with a 3.62 goals-against average and .890 save percentage against the Flyers, although he was sharp in a scoreless relief effort in the Sabres' 4-3 overtime win on Friday.

Bobrovsky was 2-2 against the Sabres with a 3.26 GAA and .906 save percentage.

In the Flyers' regular-season finale against the Islanders, Bobrovsky struggled and was pulled after allowing three goals in the first 12 minutes, 5 seconds. Brian Boucher was solid in relief as the Flyers rallied for a 7-4 victory.

"I'm not worried," said defenseman Andrej Meszaros when asked if he had concerns after Bobrovsky's performance against the Isles. "He's going to be good. It's good to see [Boucher] step up, too, because you never know what will happen in the playoffs. We have confidence in both goalies. Even [Michael Leighton], he's up right now. I'm sure whoever is in the net, everybody will be comfortable" with him."

"Bob will be fine," Boucher said. "He's bounced back all year long. He's a hard worker, and I don't have any worries about him at all."

Coach Peter Laviolette downplayed Bobrovsky's season-ending performance - three goals allowed on 10 shots.

"When you go back and look at some of those goals and break them down, you have a breakaway, a five-on-three, a puck that scrambled through a bunch of players, and a guy left uncontested in front of the net, so we could have done a couple different things in front of Bob," Laviolette said. "I'm sure he wishes he had another crack at some of them, but I think we could have been better in front of him."

Still, Bobrovsky figures to have a short playoff leash, with Boucher and Leighton waiting in the wings. In that order.

As for Miller, who is 22-18 with a 2.39 GAA and .917 save percentage in his playoff career, the Flyers will continue to pester him, as they did in the regular season.

"Obviously getting shots and traffic on Miller is huge," winger Scott Hartnell said.

"Don't make it comfortable for him and score some ugly ones," defenseman Sean O'Donnell said.

Laviolette was asked if the Flyers were playoff-ready.

"I can't give you a formula," he said after the Flyers clinched their first Atlantic Division title since 2004 on Saturday. "You get on a roll, you catch some lightning, you catch some breaks, you catch some good health, you catch a bounce, and the next thing you know you're playing for the Cup. I don't know if there's a recipe."

O'Donnell said the playoffs will snap the Flyers out of their late-season funk.

"There are no excuses now. It's time to put up or shut up," he said. "I have confidence we'll kind of get refocused the next four days and be ready to go Thursday."

 


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BroadStBull.