PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference quarterfinals; Sabres lead 3-2.
One victory from eliminating the Philadelphia Flyers and advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in five years, the Buffalo Sabres are out to accomplish something neither club has done in this series: Win on the road.
The teams are slated for a pivotal Game 6 at the Wachovia Center.
Owning home-ice advantage as a No. 4 seed, Buffalo jumped out to a 2-0 series lead by outscoring Philadelphia by a combined 11-4, including an 8-2 romp in Game 2. The Sabres, though, lost the next two games on the road—4-2 in Game 3 on Wednesday and 5-4 in Game 4 on Friday.
“We’re a good road team, and we have to go out and win a road game,” said Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, whose team returned home Sunday and shut down the Flyers’ high-octane offense in a 3-0 win to take a 3-2 series lead. “That would make a big statement. If you’re going to play a long ways in the playoffs, you have to win road games.”
The last time the Sabres made the postseason in 2000-01, they opened against the Flyers and also had game leads of 2-0 and 3-2 before saving their best performance for an 8-0 home rout in Game 6 to advance to the second round.
In this series, the Sabres played arguably their best all-around game Sunday, using power-play goals by Tim Connolly and J.P. Dumont to take a 2-0 lead after two periods before Maxim Afinogenov finished the scoring early in the third.
“What we did really well was after we got the lead, we kept coming at them,” said Daniel Briere, who had two assists to up his point total to a team-high eight in the series. “We didn’t just try to hold on to it and that’s very encouraging.”
Goaltender Ryan Miller was erratic at times in the two previous games, including allowing R.J. Umberger’s shot to squirt under his arm for the game-winner on Friday, but made 24 saves Sunday for his first career playoff shutout and the first by a Sabres rookie since Steve Shields in 1997.
“I wasn’t really looking at this game to be a shutout,” said Miller, who lowered his goals-against average to 2.21 in the series. “A little bit of forgiveness was the big thing on my mind, the ability to forgive myself for a situation I thought we shouldn’t have been in.”
Equally as important, the Sabres were able to put a stranglehold on the Flyers’ top line of Peter Forsberg, Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble, a trio that entered with a combined eight goals and eight assists in the series.
That line was held to seven shots on goal in Game 5.
“There was no offense,” Forsberg said. “We had nothing. We got outplayed again.”
Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock agreed with Forsberg and hopes his team is able to rebound at home to force a deciding Game 7, which would be Thursday night in Buffalo.
“There’s no Xs and Os that we’ll be speaking about in the next 48 hours,” Hitchcock said. “We know how we got beat today. Every player in that locker room knows how we got beat. We’ll be a lot better in Game 6.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Sabres - 110 points; 4th seed. Flyers - 101 points; 5th seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Sabres - Dumont, 4 goals; Briere, 5 assists and 8 points; Toni Lydman, Henrik Tallinder and Paul Gaustad, 8 PIM. Flyers - Forsberg, 4 goals, 4 assists and 8 points; Ben Eager, 26 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Sabres - Power play: 18.4 percent (7 for 38). Penalty killing: 87.5 percent (21 for 24). Flyers - Power play: 12.5 percent (3 for 24). Penalty killing: 81.6 percent (31 for 38).