To their credit, Philadelphia played well using an aggressive forecheck to make life difficult on Buffalo. After a scoreless first, the guests got on the board first when Simon Gagne finished off his 10th set up by Lukas Krajicek, who went around a Sabre forward to find the Flyer scorer. Gagne got inside position on rookie Tyler Myers in front.
But with the Flyers looking to increase the lead, the Sabres got a spark from slumping finisher Thomas Vanek. who netted an unlikely one for his 19th. Off an Adam Mair dump in from center ice, an attacking Vanek caught Michael Leighton out of position. He wisely threw the puck at the net which caromed off Leighton and in to tie it 2:13 later. A good hustle play from the Sabres' most gifted forward who'll need to ramp it up the rest of the way. Particularly this Spring.
Despite some good pressure from Philly, who outshot Buffalo 10-6 in the stanza, the game remained knotted thanks to Olympic MVP Ryan Miller making a few key saves. In his second start post Winter Games, the Vezina candidate was solid turning aside 27 of 29.
The third was topsy turvy with both clubs trading chances making it a fun watch. Each netminder was strong with Leighton stoning a couple of Sabres from in tight while Miller kept the Flyers at bay. However, a Connolly miscue almost proved costly. The centerman's blind giveaway inside his blueline allowed an opportunistic Mike Richards to break in clean and beat Miller, going to the backhand top shelf for a 2-1 lead with 8:51 left.
Just when it seemed the Flyers would ride it to a 'W,' they came undone in their own end allowing Mair to tie it. A sloppy Matt Carle pass near his net resulted in Mike Grier stealing and setting up Mair, who snuck a backhand past Leighton for the equalizer less than three minutes later. It would remain tied at the end of regulation.
During the four-on-four, it was the HSBC hosts wearing the dark blue and gold jerseys who earned the big extra point. Thanks to a solid forecheck that saw pinching defenseman Andrej Sekera keep a play alive, deadline pickup Raffi Torres retrieved a loose puck and fed Toni Lydman at the left point. Lydman quickly fired a low shot that rebounded right to Connolly who buried it for just the Sabres' second win in 10 (2-6-2). It came at a good time moving Buffalo back into first a point up on Ottawa, who's dropped their first two since returning. They'll look to end the skid when they play host to nemesis Toronto in tonight's Hockey Night In Canada feature.
“It was tough but when I got back to the bench, a lot of the guys told me not to worry about it, go out there and we’ll get one back,” Connolly said of his gaffe which he made up for. “Mair was able to get one back quick, and that gives you a little boost.”
“If we keep playing like that, we’re going to have some leads and we’re going to be back to the way we need to be playing,” added Miller of an effort which was just what they needed.
Notes: Vanek's goal gave him 300 career points. ... Leighton finished with 32 saves suffering the hard luck loss. ... Buffalo held leading Flyer finisher Jeff Carter off the score sheet, snapping his six-game goal streak. The right wing finished minus-one with four shots in his 277th consecutive game, surpassing former Flyer captain Bobby Clarke for third longest iron man streak in franchise history. ... With a goal and helper, Connolly raised his career best season to 42 assists and 57 points, pacing the club. It helps that he's played in all 63 games. ... F Drew Stafford left the game in the first with an injury playing only 4:33.
... The game was a milestone for Ruff, who moved into third place all-time for most games (965) coached with one team. It was his 471st win- the fourth most for one franchise. ... Buffalo (34-20-9, 76 Pts) pays a visit to Rangers (29-27-8, 66 Pts) tomorrow night. They should be a little weary after taking on conference leader Washington in the nation's capital later. Recently claimed Alex Auld will get the nod while Marian Gaborik rushes back from a groin injury.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Mike Richards, Phi (26th of season, +1 in 20:34)
2nd Star-Michael Leighton, Phi (32 saves)
1st Star-Adam Mair, Buf (goal, assist, 3 SOG in 15:02)