PHILADELPHIA (AP)—Buffalo sure has a knack for blowing out the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6s. The Sabres can only hope to keep this kind of play going throughout the postseason.
The Sabres dominated from the first faceoff, flexing their scoring muscle in a 7-1 win on Tuesday night that put them in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time in five years and extended the Flyers’ Stanley Cup drought to 30 seasons.
“It fired up our will when we heard things like the more the series went on, the tougher it would go for us,” Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere said. “Those were just motivation points for us.”
The Sabres hardly needed an extra push. Instead, they simply outshot, outworked and outplayed the Flyers.
The Carolina Hurricanes eliminated Montreal just moments after the Sabres dismissed Philadelphia to complete the first round in the East. Carolina will meet New Jersey in the conference’s other semifinal.
Mike Grier, Alex Kotalik and Derek Roy all scored for Buffalo in the first period to take the life out of a raucous crowd and make Philadelphia wait 40 more miserable minutes for its inevitable elimination.
The Sabres did what no team had done in the series—win on the road. Buffalo took all three games at home, and Philadelphia won Games 3 and 4. The Flyers would’ve been at a disadvantage if a Game 7 was forced.
Buffalo made that a moot point in a hurry.
“I don’t think we wanted to go back home for a Game 7,” Roy said. “We knew they could cause some damage if it went to a Game 7. I thought we put it all out on the line and came out strong.”
The result should have seemed a bit familiar in both cities: The Sabres eliminated the Flyers 8-0 in Game 6 of the first round in 2001. That was the last season the Sabres reached the semis or were in the playoffs.
That was also the worst loss in the Flyers postseason history. This one matched the worst home playoff defeat for the Flyers, who fell 7-1 to the New York Rangers in Game 2 of the 1979 quarterfinals.
“That was probably the single most embarrassing moment I’ve had in my career,” Flyers captain Derian Hatcher said.
After losing 3-0 in Game 5 on Sunday, Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock promised that his team would be better. Hitchcock made predictions about as well as Robert Esche stopped shots.
As they did in each of the first five games, the Sabres scored first, and this time not even Peter Forsberg, the home ice or Kate Smith could save the Flyers.
Philadelphia’s attempt at clearing the puck late in the first period was blocked by Toni Lydman, leading to a scrum behind the net. Grier stuck the puck in the open net for a 1-0 lead.
Then Buffalo took over and sapped the Flyers in the final 2 1/2 minutes of the period. Kotalik scored on a wrist shot from the left circle, and Roy took advantage of Forsberg’s misplayed cross-ice pass for another goal to make it 3-0.
“That’s as big a blow that you can suffer when you’re in your building and maybe getting out of the period 1-0 and you score two pucks,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
Those two quick goals stunned the Flyers, and they never recovered.
“It was a great feeling in the locker room, it was a great start, and then it was bang, bang, bang. It was over,” Hitchcock said. “We poured so much into it and then the air went out completely. The deflation was unbelievable.”
The Philly faithful booed the Flyers off the ice, and the club’s performance didn’t get any better. Jason Pominville’s slap shot made it 4-0 only 3:05 into the second. After Esche allowed Maxim Afinogenov’s goal, the Flyers goalie was pulled for Antero Niittymaki.
Esche, who allowed 22 goals and made 154 saves in the series, was actually cheered as a sign of appreciation as he skated off the ice with Philadelphia down 5-0.
With 1:03 left in the second, Branko Radivojevic finally scored for the Flyers to make it 5-1. A sign of a furious comeback? Nope. Drury scored 49 seconds later for a 6-1 lead.
Drury completed the scoring in the third period for the Sabres, who were constantly playing from in front.
“It’s tough to bounce back when you’re always down 1-0, 2-0,” said Forsberg, who was a non-factor in the clincher.
Miller completed a strong series in goal, stopping all five power-play shots and nine overall in the third period.
“It’s surprising the way we won,” Miller said. “But the way these guys react when they get confidence, get skating, get moving, it’s hard to think they weren’t going to keep it from getting higher.”
Midway through the third period, the orange-clad crowd resembled a preseason game more than one that showed up hoping to help the Flyers fight off elimination. There was even the predictable and played-out “E-A-G-L-E-S!” chant.
“We have unbelievable fans and they’re disappointed,” Hitchcock said. “We have to stick together.”
None of Philadelphia’s four major professional teams have won a championship since the 76ers captured the NBA title in 1983. The Flyers have not claimed the Stanley Cup since winning it in 1974 and 1975.
The Sabres won an Eastern Conference-best 25 times on the road during the regular season. … Philadelphia had not been eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs since 2002. … Forsberg and linemates Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne scored eight of the Flyers’ 14 goals in the series. … The Flyers have rallied from a 3-2 deficit to win a series only once in team history.