All of Buffalo woke up this morning elated after the Sabres stole game one away from the Philadelphia Flyers last night in the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals series.
It was a game in which Philadelphia dictated much of the tempo for the majority of the game, forcing Ryan Miller to stand on his head time and time again in front of a typically raucous, sold out crowd at the Wells Fargo Center.
Hometown hero Patrick Kaleta added the game’s only goal off of a great play that began with rookie Nathan Gerbe’s work in the corner. It was a goal which greatly exemplified just how well the line of Gerbe, Gaustad and Kaleta clicked throughout the game, becoming Lindy Ruff’s go-to-guys in the late goings.
Before the series began, Ryan Miller was considered by many to be the catalyst of this best of seven series. If he plays at the level shown in the 2010 Olympics, the Sabres will as a result dominate; if he struggles, the Flyers will have no trouble getting out of the first round.
Well Miller certainly proved his doubters wrong after last night’s brilliant performance, showing he is in fact dialed in for this year’s playoffs. Throughout his last seven games played, Miller is 5-1 with a 1.08 GAA and .966 SV% and has made most people forget about his early season struggles.
Although Miller likely doesn’t mind single-handedly stifling a potent Philadelphia offense, he will need much better support from the Sabres’ top lines if they are to win the three more games needed to move forward.
For much of the game the Sabres’ top scoring line of Vanek, Connolly and Pominville — who had been on fire coming in — were irrelevant and outmatched by Philly’s deep defensive core. Fortunately, the large amount of minutes tallied by the Pronger-less Flyers were enough to wear them down, just enough for Kaleta to sneak one by Bobrovsky.
Other than Miller, the results varied on the defensive side for the Sabres. Tyler Myers played a typically solid game and Mike Weber supplied his fair share of big hits while Chris Butler was a pleasant surprise and should have been named one of the games’ three stars.
However, poor play from Steve Montador and Shaone Morrisonn put the Sabres in ugly shorthanded situations, including a bad 5 on 3 power play late in the game which Miller had to bail them out of.
Even though the Sabres captured the victory there is still much to be desired from the team who was up 1-0 on the Boston Bruins in last year’s playoff series before suffering four consecutive loses and failing to adavnce.
But with a Flyers team who will likely be without their No. 1 defenseman Chris Pronger for game two and possibly beyond it’s hard not to be excited as Sabres fans going forward.
In the end all that matters for Buffalo is the “W” and the Sabres got it done, putting themselves in a favorable position. The win last night in Philly was increasingly valuable as the Sabres now shift the coveted home ice advantage in their favor for the remainder of the series, which will likely go a long way in determining the final outcome.
As long as Buffalo can find more scoring contributions and take less ill-advised penalties it will go a long way to relieve Miller of some pressure and winning the series.
Most importantly for Buffalo fans is with the win the Sabres continue to show they absolutely love the underdog role, a role in which they are likely to take on throughout the playoffs.
All of the Philly fans who thought it would be a breeze drawing the Sabres in round one need to think again. If they continue with this mentality, the Flyers will undoubtedly find themselves on the links while the Sabres take the ice in round two.
Lindy Ruff is now 9-2 all time when opening a playoff series on the road and has his team playing at an all-time high at exactly the right time. It’s hard to see the Sabres folding out of this one.