PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference First Round; Sabres lead 1-0.
The Buffalo Sabres are often described as inexperienced, but their performance in Game 1 could help put an end to that.
The Sabres look to take a 2-0 lead over the veteran Philadelphia Flyers when the teams meet again at HSBC Arena.
Buffalo’s lineup featured a combined 295 playoff games entering this postseason, the same number as Philadelphia’s Peter Forsberg and Eric Desjardins had between them. Daniel Briere was not intimidated, however, and scored 7:31 into the second overtime past goaltender Robert Esche to give the Sabres a 3-2 victory on Saturday.
Jochen Hecht returned to the ice after missing 16 of the last 17 games with a knee injury to assist on the game-winning goal.
“People complain about the Sabres not being an experienced team, but you play all the way into a second overtime against the Flyers with their history— it’s pretty amazing,” said Briere, who finished with a team-record 14 shots in just his seventh career NHL postseason contest. “I was surprised by the way we kept our composure.”
Buffalo outshot the Flyers 58-32, including 15-6 in the first overtime. Those 58 shots broke the franchise playoff record of 57, set April 8, 1976 in a 3-2 overtime victory over St. Louis.
Goaltender Ryan Miller made 30 saves in his NHL postseason debut for the Sabres, who have won six straight games including a five-game streak to close the regular season.
Buffalo, which has never hoisted the Stanley Cup, is making its first postseason appearance since 2001, when it beat the Flyers 4-2 in the first round before losing in seven games to Pittsburgh.
Mike Knuble scored in his ninth consecutive meeting with the Sabres and assisted on Simon Gagne’s equalizer for Philadelphia, but it was Esche’s career-high 55 saves that kept Philadelphia in the game.
“I felt like I was in the zone, but you never feel good when you give up one more goal than the other team,” said Esche, who won the starting job over Antero Niittymaki. “It’s a process and it’s part of it, and we just have to put it behind us and move on. That’s why they play seven games.”
Philadelphia’s penalty-killing unit was a perfect 9-for-9 in the loss and has not allowed a goal in the last three games.
“He’s a young player in his first series. He got welcomed in a big way. He’ll be back,” Hitchcock said.
The Flyers, making their 11th straight playoff appearance, have won Game 2 in their last five postseason series.
The series will move to the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia for Game 3 and Game 4.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Flyers - 101 points; 5th seed. Sabres - 110 points; 4th seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Flyers - Gagne and Knuble, 1 goal; Desjardins, Forsberg, Denis Gauthier and Knuble, 1 assist; Knuble, 2 points and 6 PIM. Sabres - Briere, Tim Connolly and Jay McKee, 1 goal; Briere, Campbell and Hecht, 1 assist; Briere, 2 points; Toni Lydman and McKee, 6 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Flyers - Power play: 20.0 percent (1 for 5). Penalty killing: 100 percent (9 for 9). Sabres - Power play: 0 percent (0 for 9). Penalty killing: 80.0 percent (4 for 5).
GOALTENDERS: Flyers - Esche (0-0-1, 2.06 GAA); Niittymaki (no record). Sabres - Miller (1-0-0, 1.38); Martin Biron (no record).
LAST MEETING: Saturday; Sabres, 3-2 (2 OT). At Buffalo, N.Y., Briere scored 7:31 into the second overtime to give the Sabres the win while Esche made 55 saves for the Flyers.
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