Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ennis the OT hero in Sabres Game 5 win over Flyers

Just call him the most unheralded rookie of a deep crop. Tyler Ennis saved the Sabres' bacon in a pivotal Game Five, scoring the overtime winner at 5:31 to rescue his club after blowing a 3-0 lead for a gutsy 4-3 win over the Flyers at a stunned Wachovia Center. In an unpredictable series where nobody's been able to handle to win two in a row, Buffalo now leads the best-of-seven First Round 3-2 with a chance to close it out tomorrow afternoon at 3 ET at HSBC Arena.

This is definitely a great place to play,” an excited 21 year-old Ennis said. “Any time you can silence the crowd like that, it’s an awesome feeling.
It was his second goal of the game, which also happened to be the second of the series after being shutout the first four. For the seventh seeded Sabres, it couldn't have come at a better time, allowing them not to become another victim of the dreaded three goal lead in what's amounted to a wild opening round. If you've paid attention to these 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, no lead is safe. The Kings, Bruins, Canadiens and Rangers have all been victimized at home. If you include Nashville's late comeback over Anaheim, that's five teams that couldn't hold off determined opponents with each pulling it out in sudden death. At least the Ducks were only up one.

I liked the fact that we were able to regroup,” noted a pleased Lindy Ruff. “I told the team that we just needed to relax. We needed to make more plays, and we did a tremendous job.
Perhaps that's the reason so many leads have evaporated. As the veteran coach further explained in last night's postgame, teams tend to take their foot off the gas pedal and play safe. That allows teams the opportunity to come back. The Sabres took advantage of an off Brian Boucher, scoring nearly identical goals from tough angles to build a quick 2-0 lead in the first four minutes. Coincidentally, Ennis started it when he threw a harmless puck that went right through Boucher's feet at 2:24. Taking a cue from the '08 first round pick who finished the season with 49 points, leading scorer Thomas Vanek took a pass from Patrick Kaleta and intentionally shot one from behind the net off Boucher for 2-zip 87 seconds later. When rookie defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani scored a more conventional power play goal with a perfect laser off the far post, that ended  Boucher's night.

I’d very much like to redeem myself,” Boucher lamented. “Like I said, it was my responsibility tonight. I take ownership in that. To put your team in a hole like that, they didn’t deserve that.”
The popular Flyer netminder predictably slammed his stick when he got to the bench as 2010 hero Michael Leighton replaced him between the pipes. In doing so, the vet who got into just one game this season due to a slew of injuries, became the third different goalie in the series for Peter Laviolette. Considering that his club's also been without top defender Chris Pronger the entire first round and now lost Jeff Carter for the rest as well, it speaks to the difficulty the second seeded Atlantic champs are having.

The goalie change sparked Philadelphia. Suddenly reinvigorated, they began peppering Ryan Miller until he finally cracked. Following a controversial hand pass by leading scorer Claude Giroux that neither ref saw, the Flyers took full advantage when Andrej Mezsaros set up James van Riemsdyk for the hosts' first tally. The Old Bridge kid from New Jersey has been effective all series and got his team going. It didn't take long for Philly to slice the deficit to one when Giroux and vet Sean O'Donnell combined to feed Mezsaros for a wicked one-timer past Miller 105 seconds later. Suddenly alive, the Flyers pressed for the equalizer but Miller held them off for the time being with Buffalo nursing a one-goal lead after two.

Undeterred, the Flyers came out and got it tied thanks to a former Sabre. Danny Briere roasted his ex-team thanks to a nifty pass behind the net from Mike Richards, sneaking in front and flipping a backhand top shelf tying it 3-3 at 3:36. Ever since he departed Buffalo, Briere has killed them. It was his third of the series. Kris Versteeg also notched a helper.

With the crowd revved up, the Flyers looked for more but Miller wasn't biting. Despite giving up three straight, last year's Vezina winner was outstanding, making several sparklers en route to a game high 36 saves. That included a flat out denial of one-time Ranger Nikolay Zherdev, who was also dangerous in OT. Playing with Giroux and Van Riemsdyk, the enigmatic Russian made a couple of nice defensive plays and went to the net in search of rebounds. Two things he never did while on Broadway. While the Flyers and in particular Giroux were scary anytime he had the puck, Buffalo settled down and also began forcing Leighton to make some tough saves. For his part, Leighton played well turning aside 20 of 21 forcing overtime.

In it, both rivals went for it, making for compelling action. Miller made three saves in succession, robbing Zherdev on the doorstep and closing up with Giroux poking away. Ironically, Ennis' winner came with Zherdev out. Steve Montador kept the puck in at the right point as Zherdev pressured. However, he lost his check allowing Montador to dish across to an open Mike Weber, whose quick low shot caromed right to a trailing Ennis who buried it for a heroic Game Five win.

“We can’t hang our heads,” Briere said while alluding to the Flyers' historic comeback from 3-0 down against the Bruins. “We were in a worse position last year, so if there’s a group of guys that can do it, I believe in this group here.”

Pominville Out: It wasn't all good news for the Sabres, who lost forward Jason Pominville for the rest of the series with a right leg injury sustained during an incidental collision with a Flyer in the first.

“It doesn’t look too good for him,” Ruff said. “We’ll know more about that tomorrow.”

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