Flyers vs. Sabres Preview
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Where and when this rough-and-tumble, momentum shifting first-round series stops is anyone's guess. The only thing certain is the Sabres have a 3-2 edge, and a chance to finish off the Flyers in Game 6 at Buffalo on Sunday.
``No excuses,'' Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Saturday, shortly after announcing the team will be without its top two-way forward Jason Pominville. ``We're going to have to do whatever it takes.''
According to NHL odds and oddsmakers from online sports book SBGGLOBAL.com have made the Sabres -120 money line favorites for Sunday's game against the Flyers. Current NHL Public Betting Information shows that 68% of more than 849 bets for this game have been placed on the Flyers +111.
Pominville was hurt in the first period of a 4-3 overtime win on Friday, when he limped off after appearing to be cut just below the left calf after colliding with Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk.
Pominville ranks second on the team with four playoff points (a goal and three assists), and played a critical role on a penalty-killing unit that's limited the Flyers to converting two of 26 chances.
This is but the latest test for a team that overcame the loss of top-line center Derek Roy in late December. Buffalo responded by going 29-11-6 in its final 46 games to finish seventh by clinching a playoff berth in its second-last game of the season.
``Everybody thought, 'Oh boy, it's looking kind of bleak now,''' Ruff said. ``But this team has found a way to rally around each other.''
The Flyers seek to find the same resolve while facing a familiar round of questions about their goaltending now that they've gone through all three - Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and now Michael Leighton - to varying results.
Coach Peter Laviolette isn't saying whom he'll go with a day after Leighton made his series debut Friday in replacing Boucher, who gave up three goals on 11 shots.
``It will probably be a combination of everything, certainly where we are now and how the playoffs have gone,'' Laviolette said in discussing what will factor into his decision.
Boucher is the Flyers most experienced goalie and has won both games in the series since replacing Bobrovsky in the first period of Game 2.
``Brian is a veteran goaltender, who's proven he can come back and play,'' Laviolette said.
Whichever goalie starts, this is not foreign territory for the Flyers. They went through three goalies last year in making their run to the Stanley Cup finals, and also overcame a 3-0 series deficit to eliminate Boston in the second round.
``Yeah, it's the same approach, same situation,'' forward Blair Betts said. ``We win tomorrow afternoon in Buffalo, and we feel we have the advantage back on our side. It's not going to be easy, but it's a simple thing as far as mindset.''
The Flyers are 3-12 when trailing 3-2 in a series, while having forced Game 7 six times.
Don't rule out the possibility of Chris Pronger's return on Sunday.
Though the Flyers continue to list Pronger as day to day, the rugged, veteran defenseman took part in his most extensive drills in practice Saturday. He's missed 21 games since having surgery to repair a broken right hand in March.
The Flyers have missed Pronger's presence. Despite winning the Atlantic Division title, they closed the season going 6-4-6 without Pronger.
Help might be on the way for the Sabres, too.
Ruff said Roy and Jochen Hecht could be days away from returning. Roy has been out since tearing a left quadriceps tendon on Dec. 23. Hecht has missed 11 games with what the team is calling an upper body injury.
The Sabres have confidence in proving they can win no matter who's out.
``The guys have dug in and we've got ourselves in a good spot,'' veteran forward Mike Grier said. ``But I think we know this game coming up here tomorrow is probably going to be the toughest, hardest game a lot of guys in here have played in.''
Making their second consecutive playoff appearance, the Sabres haven't advanced past the first round since 2007. Despite injuries, they're getting solid goaltending from Ryan Miller, who has shut out the Flyers twice, and a balanced scoring attack.
The Sabres survived a major scare on Friday when they squandered a 3-0 lead only to have Tyler Ennis convert a rebound at 5:31 of overtime.
``It was a pretty awesome feeling,'' Ennis said, acknowledging he watched the replay a few times. ``But I'm looking forward to the next one.''