VOORHEES, N.J. (AP)—Leave it to the former Broad Street Bullies to stick with a physical style in the new, offense-oriented NHL.
Despite losing the first two games of their first-round playoff series against Buffalo, the Philadelphia Flyers didn’t change their aggressive philosophy. Though the Sabres clearly are a faster team, the Flyers used their size to offset Buffalo’s speed in Wednesday night’s 4-2 win.
Instead of letting the Sabres skate with the puck at will, the Flyers impeded their path with forceful checks. In many ways, this series is shaping up to be the old NHL vs. the new NHL.
“You can say that,” Flyers forward Simon Gagne said Thursday. “They’re built for the new NHL. They’re not big, but they have a lot of speed. We have some speed, but we’re more physical. We need to play the same way every game. They can be a physical team, too. The longer the series will go, the better chance we will have.”
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff scoffed at the notion that Philadelphia’s physical play would wear down his smaller players in a long series.
“In a long series, they’re going to wear down all our old guys,” an incredulous Ruff said after practice. “I think our young guys can handle a long series. You look around at every playoff series, they’re not decided in three games and they’re usually not decided in four games. Not for a minute do I think a long series will hurt our team.”
Game 4 is Friday night in Philadelphia. The Flyers can’t afford to let up physically or emotionally. A raucous crowd Wednesday night gave them a huge home-ice advantage much the way it did for the Sabres in Buffalo the first two games.
“I think we play better when we’re desperate,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “The big question mark now is, can we answer the bell again a second time? We’ve played some games like that in our building and then we haven’t come back with near the emotion or intensity. We have to play with the same sense of desperation or increase it for more minutes if we expect to win.”
It wouldn’t hurt if Philadelphia also got some offensive production somewhere other than its top line. Peter Forsberg, Mike Knuble and Gagne have six of the Flyers’ eight goals in the series. Forsberg, one of the best playoff performers in league history, had two of the goals in Game 3.
Perhaps the most important goal of the series came from Brian Savage, who scored short-handed to tie it at 1 Wednesday night. Philadelphia’s special teams, a problem during the season, killed all seven of Buffalo’s power-play opportunities in Game 3 and 25 of 28 in the series.
“We did a great job on the penalty kill,” said Forsberg, who was in the penalty box when Savage scored. “If we do that, it gives momentum to the whole team. Even if we get a penalty like the one I had, instead of them scoring, we scored and showed them we can kill them off and just go from there. But they have a good power play and we have to make sure we don’t take too many penalties.”
The Sabres, who appeared primed for a sweep, remain confident they can rebound from the loss and return to Buffalo with a 3-1 advantage.
Ruff said defenseman Teppo Numminen, who didn’t play in the third period, has an irregular heartbeat and his status for Game 4 won’t be known until Friday.
“You just forgive yourself and move forward,” Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller said. “It’s the nature of the playoffs, it’s bounces, getting pucks in the net. The thing you take away from it is, we all showed up to play. We finished strong, came up a little short. But we knew this was going to be a tough series.”