We’re all tied up

The series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo
Sabres has become a best of three heading back to Philadelphia.  The 1-0 victory on Wednesday night once again
was evidence of how closely matched these teams are.  The sellout HSBC Arena crowd was treated to a
spectacular performance given by Ryan Miller, who posted his second shutout of
the series.  The roller coaster that is
the NHL playoffs seems poised for at least a couple more turns.  Let’s take a look at the game.

Ryan Miller may not have had to be great in his Game 1
shutout, but he earned every accolade and piece of praise given to him after
his game 4 performance.  Despite a
relatively shaky opening period he kept Philadelphia off the score board and
elevated his game from there.  Miller
played with an edge to his game all night that included a jab to the face of
the Flyers Daniel Carcillo.  This is the
Ryan Miller that fans have asked to see on a regular basis.  Someone that is capable of bailing the team
out for their mistakes as he did on the third period stop of Danny Briere.  Briere received the puck in front of the net
all alone and despite his patient moves Miller stonewalled him with his glove
hand in a moment that should live on in Sabres playoff history.  The crowd erupted in its appreciation of the
play and Miller continued to carry the team to the victory.

What might be lost in the Miller-Briere save is how much of
a defensive lapse there was that allowed Briere to be that open.  The Flyers capitalized on a turnover by
Buffalo and as Miller pointed out in his post-game comments that Danny likes to
cheat a little bit and received an excellent opportunity to tie the game.  The play felt similar to the turnover in Game
3 that left Steve Montador to play a 2-on-1 against the Flyers.

The Flyers forecheck still seems to give the Sabres a lot of
trouble especially when you look at the last five minutes of the opening period
and almost the entire third period.  The
Sabres ended the game with 9 total giveaways.
The defensemen have to be stronger with the puck heading out of their
own zone to avoid setting the Flyers up for the easy opportunities they have
enjoyed this series.   The Flyers played
an excellent game and sustained a lot of pressure.  If not for Miller’s performance they would be
heading back to Philadelphia up 3-1.

It is tough to argue that Lindy Ruff wasn’t at least trying
to do something different against the Flyers.
He juggled the Sabres lines to an almost unrecognizable
combination.  However, what Ruff said after
the game made a lot of sense.  His intent
was to take his top scorers, notably Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford were paired
with players Lindy felt were working hard like Nathan Gerbe, Paul Gaustad and Patrick
Kaleta.  Opening lines were:

Gerbe-Connolly-Stafford

Vanek-Gaustad-Kaleta

Ennis-Niedermayer-Pominville

McCormick-Boyes-Grier

Lost in Ryan Miller’s performance is how well Brian Boucher
played for the Flyers stopping 28 out of 29 shots including one on Tyler Ennis
that allowed Philadelphia to stay in the game. The one goal that Boucher did
give up was an excellent play by Ennis to get the puck out front to Rob
Niedermayer who then passed it to a wide open Jason Pominville.  If he is able to continue to play like he did
in games 3 & 4 Flyers fans should feel much more comfortable with their
chances.

Tyler Myers is starting to play with an edge that you
wouldn’t expect a young player to display.
He had a tendency in game 4 to walk a fine line while at times cross it,
but when Myers plays with this type of mean streak you can see the potential he
has to reach the likes of Zdeno Chara, Scott Stevens, and Chris Pronger.  His continued development is going to prove
to be a catalyst for this team moving well beyond this year.

Tim Connolly did not have a very good game for the Sabres
and at times hurt both special teams units.
On the penalty kill he intercepted a pass on a nice defensive play only
to not get the puck out of the zone and create a scoring opportunity for
Philadelphia.  Until the potential return
of Derek Roy, the Sabres are going to need more out of Tim Connolly although he
did lead all forwards in ice time with 19:57.

Chris Butler led all players with 27:45 of ice time.  His development along with Myers should
provide Buffalo with a formidable blue line pairing.

The Sabres power play is now 3 for 19 in the season and
included a prolonged 5 minute power play that remained stagnant
throughout.  The Sabres got the 5 minute
power play on an elbow delivered by Mike Richards near the end of the second
period on Kaleta.  The NHL will surely
take a closer look at the hit and it could affect game 5.

At this point there appears to be a growing disdain from
each team as evidenced by the end of the game scrums.  Kimmo Timmonen’s ‘tap’ on Nathan Gerbe as well
as the numerous other shots back and forth in this series seem to be escalating
as the series heads back to Philadelphia.
The Sabres are in a position to take game 5 and head back home to close
the series out Easter Sunday in front of what should be a raucous home
crowd.  If the Sabres are going to take
game 5 they will need another good performance from Ryan Miller as well as some
offensive production.  At this point in
the series, it seems hard to believe that any team is going to run away with a
game so the Sabres are going to need to execute their game plan and take
advantage of the situations as they present themselves.  At the very least this Friday should be an
exciting game.

Twitter: @brianbund

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