PHILADELPHIA -- Greetings again from high atop the Wells Fargo Center as we get set for Game Seven of what's been a classic first-round playoff series (It's also the fifth game I've covered here since March 6 so I would be more than happy to get to the Verizon Center if the Sabres oblige this evening).
The Sabres and Flyers have played six games, plus a combined roughy 10 minutes of overtime, and Philly's 17-16 advantage in goals is simply courtesy of Kimmo Timonen's empty-netter in Game Three. Pretty amazing.
At this point, the Sabres are playing with the house's money here. Sure, they blew a golden opportunity to close out the series Sunday and frittering away a pair of two-goal leads might haunt them all summer if they don't win tonight. But they're the seventh seed and the Flyers are the No. 2. And even without Chris Pronger and Jeff Carter, close Flyer watchers say they've played some of their best hockey since the new year in this series. Their problem has just been some horrific goaltending.
The Flyers are going with Brian Boucher tonight and he cannot have the start he did in Game Five, when he handed Buffalo two cheapies to Tyler Ennis and Thomas Vanek. The odd thing to note is that Boucher actually has better numbers (2.13 GAA, .935 save percentage) than Ryan Miller (2.61/.925). Miller has two shutouts and two five-goal games in the series. The Sabres are so short-handed, you figure he's going to have to nearly pitch another shutout.
We have had all kinds of information all day on the Sabres Edge blog, including notes, quotes and plenty of audio. Be sure to go back and check it all out if you've missed it. And be sure to check out the archive of our pregame live chat.
There's been a lot of jaw-flapping in this series since the end of Game Four and it's finally time for all the words to stop. It's time to play. Sixty minutes -- and maybe more -- to decide a winner. Keep it here for all your updates.
LINEUP: Montador is a scratch for Buffalo. So are Ellis-Kaleta-Connolly-Pominville. Roy-Hecht-Grier-Mancari are all in.
SABRES STARTERS: Vanek-Roy-Hecht-Sekera-Myers-Miller (guess they'll find out right away if these guys can play)
FLYERS STARTERS: Carcillo-Richards-Versteeg-Coburn-Timonen-Boucher.
7:37 p.m.: The Flyers take the ice to roars from the crowd. They pass out orange T-shirts here and EVERYONE is wearing it tonight. Quite a look.
7:38 p.m.: The Sabres hit the ice. Boos.
7:40 p.m.: Another Lauren Hart-Kate Smith duet. Hard to beat that. Pretty deafening in here right now.
Of note: Stafford has four shots and Gerbe three to lead Buffalo. Briere has six to lead the Flyers. ... The Sabres have the lead in faceoffs, 23-20, but Gaustad's two clean losses were crushers. The Flyers have blocked 23 shots -- 17 in the second period -- while the Sabres blocked just 11. ... Briere, Richards and Giroux all have two-point games. ... Roy has played a mostly ineffective 13:08. The Flyers have gotten 12:17 out of Pronger. Ice time leaders are Coburn (16:24) and Leopold (16:26).
9:35 p.m.: The puck is dropped.
18:01 left: Good night, nurse. Leino goes down the left wing and pounds a slapshot from inside the circle over Miller's left shoulder. Flyers lead, 4-0. And here comes Enroth. Miller taps him on the pads, Lindy says something to Miller and No. 30 disappears down the tunnel into the offseason.
16:09 left: Boucher stops Sekera from the point and the "Booosh" chants come out again. Fans having a great time here and why not? Team has played great. Flyers could easily go to the finals again if Boucher can give them consistent goaltending and Pronger keeps getting healthier.
14:00 left: The Flyers won't know their second-round opponent tonight because the Habs have beaten Boston, 2-1, and they'll play Game Seven tomorrow in Beantown. East second round if Boston wins will be WAS/PIT-TB winner and PHI/BOS rematch. If Montreal wins: WAS-MON rematch and BOS/PIT-TB winner.
13:27 left: And the Flyers still don't have a shutout this year. Myers takes a Stafford pass and beats Boucher cleanly from the slot. Flyers lead, 4-1.
12:17 left: Timeout, Philly. Sabres playing better and Laviolette doesn't want anything goofy to happen given how leads seem to disappear in this series. Shots are 7-3 for Buffalo in the period.
9:57 left: Carcillo is one of those punk players you love on your team and hate if ye's on the other team. Well, tonight he's been doing a great job around the net causing havoc and he just got rewarded as he backhanded one past Enroth while falling down. What a pest. "Icing on the Cake" reads the sign-man's sign. Flyers lead, 5-1.
8:54 left: They just announced a scoring change on the third Philly goal. It's now going to Van Riemsdyk, his fourth of the series, instead of Giroux. They ruled Van Riemsdyk tipped it in.
8:15 left: Flyers fans singing good-bye to the Sabres as Gerbe and Carcillo are shown the gate for the night. Gerbe gets 10, while Carcillo gets 10 plus a game. Hmmm. The last few minutes as Sabres for some guys in uniform. Maybe names like Mancari, Grier and Niedermayer? What do they do about Boyes? And this is probably the end too for Connolly, Montador and Lalime?
6:29 left: Boucher hasn't been tested but you can see his confidence too. Nice stop on Sekera. Out on top of his crease. Confident in what he's doing.
5:41 left: Timonen for holding.
4:39 left: Sabres convert as Boyes tips home a Roy feed. So he won't have a donut for the series but it hardly means anything. Flyers lead, 5-2. Boyes had gone 18 games without a goal.
3:02 left: Enroth with a great save on Powe's backhand tip of a Briere feed. How has Briere been so alone in this series?
2:00 left: Enroth to the bench.
58.5 left; Sabres have zone time, lose the puck and Ennis gets a slashing penalty.
Mercifully, it's over: A 5-2 loss ends the Buffalo season. The better team won here tonight. Final shots were 36-27. The Sabres had their chance in Game Six and they'll rue that one all summer. See you in training camp.
Of note: AP guru Mike Haim points out the only other time the Sabres had just two shots in a first period of the playoff game was on April 29, 1997 against Ottawa. That was a Game Seven overtime win too. Hmmm.). ... In Montreal, Boston's Milan Lucic got a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a hit from behind on old friend Jaroslav Spacek. Sabres can't even get five minutes called, let alone the gate. Of course, it gets called in Montreal where if you breathe on a Canadien, the crowd goes beserk and every referee in the league gets spooked. Biggest bunch of whiny fans in the league. ... OK, I'm told Grier's glove deflected the goal. Fine. Still hate it.
Stats: Coburn and Van Riemsdyk had three shots on goal. Grier and Gerbe have the only shots for Sabres. Um, top forwards? You gonna show up? Flyers had a 12-8 edge in faceoffs. Sabres have a 15-11 edge in hits. Both teams have blocked six shots. Even with just a 1-0 score, that might have been the Sabres' worst period since the new year.
8:38 p.m.: The puck is dropped.
18:56 left: Giroux for interference. Miller made a big stop on Versteeg after just 14 seconds. Let's see if Sabres can capitalize.
17:29 left: Ennis a near miss. Couldn't tee the puck from backhand to forehand with a lot of net available and Boucher smothered. Great work at the points by Myers and Gragnani.
16:39 left: Boucher stops a Stafford wrister. Sabres have four shots in this period already.
15:20 left: Gaustad and Boyes have two routine easy clears out of the zone and fail both times. Zherdev fires wide on the first and Van Riemsdyk nearly puts it home on the second (hit Zherdev) before Myers takes an interference penalty.
15:15 left: Gaustad is killing the Sabres. Lost the faceoff and bad clear for another goal. An easy PP goal. Lost another faceoff. Shot from point hits Leopold, drops at Briere's feet and he has a tap-in. Flyers lead, 2-0. Shots are 18-6. Briere has six goals in the series.
12:20 left: Roy to the dressing room after a hard hit. Was it the leg? Pretty slow on the way off.
10:51 left: Butler for hooking on Briere. Another goal here and they blow the roof off this place.
9:41 left: There goes the roof. Pronger can't shoot but he can pass. Feeds Giroux for a bullet from the left circle. Miller might have been screened by Leopold and/or Van Riemsdyk. Flyers have 2 PP goals and lead, 3-0. The "Mil-ler, Mil-ler" chants are out and this baby is just about over. Shots are 22-8.
7:01 left: Shots are 23-9. Sabres mounting little offense. At a time like this, you think back to 2001. Can't help it. Sabres were 78 seconds away from a series-closing win before Mario Lemieux's fluke goal tied Game Six and forced overtime. Buffalo lost that one and Game Seven on the Darius Kasparaitis goal. Sabres were 10 minutes away in regulation of Game Six and couldn't get the overtime goal they needed either. With just 27 minutes left here, they don't have a sniff of this Game Seven.
6:30 left: Another Mike Haim special: Briere's six goals most in a series against Sabres since Quebec's Michel Goulet had six in 1985 -- in a five-gamer!
4:00 left: Wild sequence sees Miller with a left glove to the face of Carcillo, which had to be a roughing penalty but wasn't called, followed by few seconds later by Carcillo doing a fake rush on Miller. Van Riemsdyk then barely misses the far post on a great solo dash.
3:32 left: Shots are 25-11. This place is insane right now. There is almost no way for you to talk to the person next to you in the press box. Like being at a heavy metal concert I would guess (no, I've never been to one).
1:12 left: Boucher with a couple good saves in tight on Stafford. Solid text reminder from Sully: Flyers did not have a shutout all season. Imagine getting one in Game Seven after all this talk about their goaltending? Carle gone for roughing.
57.8 left: Coburn and Myers go for cross-checking and slashing. Stays 5-on-4.
END-2ND: It's 3-0 for the Flyers. Shots are 27-14 (it was 12-11 for Buffalo in that period)
7:42 p.m.: The puck is dropped.
18:26 left: Pronger is taking a regular shift for the Flyers it would appear. Just made a steal in the neutral zone and Miller made a save on his wrist shot.
17:03: Gragnani and Briere go for holding and roughing, respectively. The lines have looked like this so far: Vanek-Roy-Hecht, Ennis-Niedermayer-Stafford, Gerbe-Gaustad-Mancari, McCormick, Boyes-Grier.
13:17 left: No whistles for quite a while. The Sabres have been pretty brutal with the puck so far. Giroux was alone in front and had most of the net but hit the post. Shots are 5-1 for Philly and the puck has hardly been out of the Sabres' zone. The defense pairs, by the way, are Sekera-Myers, Leopold-Gragnani and Butler-Weber. So Butler and Myers have been broken up.
11:53 left: Gragnani pounds Briere with a crosscheck into the goalpost. Knocks the net off and forces a whistle. No one noticed? Lucky there. Shots are 7-1.
10:52 left: Sabres' best chance is a 45-foot slapper from the boards by Grier that Boucher gloved. Buffalo has gotten nowhere near the Flyers' net so far. Shots are 7-2.
9:00 left: Sabres have held on for 11 minutes as the crowd was roaring. Let's see if they can settle this game down some. Flyers threw a pretty big roundhouse at them from the start.
8:36 left: Boyes fires wide on a 2-on-1 with Roy. Good to see him shoot but how big a pressure release would that have been for him to put that one home?
6:16 left: Shots are 11-2. That's a pretty good reflection of how the play has gone. And remember, the first period has been owned by Buffalo in this series, 11-5. The Flyers have finally found a way to get off to a good start. Don't have to worry about your goalie giving up a softie if he faces no shots.
5:45 left: Just as I said that, Boucher nearly gift-wrapped one to Hecht by losing the puck behind the net. Boucher recovers with help from Pronger & Co. Pronger has played eight shifts and 4:38 so far. Basically a regular turn. Maybe he's feeling better. Sure. But he knows this is Game Seven too. They lose, his hand will feel fine by October. A gamer for sure.
4:37 left: Briere for boarding on Niedermayer. Another dangerous play in the corner. Niedermayer stunned for a bit. Now on the bench. And the crowd actually booed the penalty call. FlyerFan, that could have easily been five minutes.
2:33 left: Flyers kill it easily. Richards actually had the best chance with a tip of a Giroux pass that went wide. Standing ovation at the whistle.
29.3 left: Miller with an absolute stoning of Richards from the slot after a terrible giveaway pass from Leopold. Passed it right to him. Sabres desperate to get out of this period zip-zip.
18.2 left: Devastating. Sabres simply couldn't clear the zone. Too many faceoffs. They lose another one (Briere beat Gaustad) and Coburn flips one from the point that somehow gets through Miller's legs. It dropped. Gotta stop it. Miller had been the best player on the ice by far. Almost got Buffalo outta here with no damage. Flyers lead, 1-0.
END-1ST: Shots are 16-2. Are the Sabres simply out of gas in this series? Looks like it. And that might have been the worst goal Miller has given up the whole series at the worst time. 1-0 is a huge difference right now from 0-0 given the way the Flyers are playing.