Sabres-Flyers Preview

The Flyers have their captain for Game 7.

Forward Mike Richards sidestepped a punishing hit instead of
delivering one on Monday, and will be in the lineup for a
win-or-else Game 7 against Buffalo.

Good news for the Flyers.

Bad for the Sabres, who are seething.

Buffalo wanted Richards suspended by the NHL for plowing center
Tim Connolly head first into the boards. Connolly, who has a scary
history of head injuries, left the game and will not play Game 7 on
Tuesday night in Philadelphia.

Richards was penalized for boarding. He was also whistled for a
5-minute major for elbowing Patrick Kaleta late in the second
period of Game 4. That’s two vicious hits too many for Buffalo.
Just ask goalie Ryan Miller, who called Richards ”reckless.”

”The guy who was complaining the most about how we were getting
away with murder has delivered two of the dirtiest hits in the
series,” Miller said. ”A blatant elbow to the face, that is
something that the league said they were going to try and take
away, and driving Tim Connolly head first into the boards.

”It wasn’t just a hit it was a push. It was blatant.”

Richards, of course, isn’t disputing it was a hard hit. He’s
just glad he has the opportunity to play, and help the defending
Eastern Conference champions advance to Round 2.

While he contended earlier in the series the Sabres got away
with ”murder” on the ice, Richards wasn’t interested in another
heated exchange of words.

”I’m not worried about that,” he said. ”I’m worried about
helping the team out and getting one by the goaltender
tomorrow.”

On the Buffalo side, it’s exit Connolly, enter Derek Roy.

The Sabres should have Roy in the lineup for the first time
since Dec. 23. The team’s leading scorer when he suffered a torn
quadriceps in December, he had been ruled out of the first round.
But he’ll be pressed into service with Connolly injured.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff teased on Monday that Roy might not be
ready to play. But Roy insisted he’ll be in the lineup.

”I wouldn’t play if I wasn’t 100 percent,” Roy said. ”We were
waiting for the right moment, and this work that I did has paid
off. I came in every morning – first in, last out – and it’s been a
long road.”

The Sabres didn’t miss him. Buffalo responded by going 29-11-6
in its final 46 games to clinch a playoff spot in its
second-to-last game of the season.

And while he’s glad to be back, certainly, Roy isn’t sure how
much he can push himself in a frantic Game 7.

The Flyers faced a familiar situation in Game 6 when injured
defenseman Chris Pronger returned for the first time after a
21-game absence following surgery on his broken right hand.

Pronger didn’t get his first shift until 10:05 into the game
with the Sabres ahead 2-0. He finished with 4:33 of ice time and
was limited solely to the power play. Pronger expects to see a
minutes bump Tuesday.

”He has been there and he knows what it takes,” Flyers forward
Claude Giroux said. ”Any time you’ve got a guy like Pronger in
your lineup, you are going to feel more confident.”

While Pronger settles back in his comfort zone, the Flyers could
use an offensive jolt from Richards.

He has yet to score in the series – a six-game tussle that will
haunt the Sabres if they can’t find a way to win a Game 7 on the
road. They coughed up a 3-1 lead in a Game 6 loss and surrendered a
3-0 lead before rallying in Game 5.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette keeps spinning the wheel in net –
round and round it goes, where it stops – well, at least the Flyers
know. He ended any mystery by naming veteran Brian Boucher the
starter. Yes, the Flyers have used three starting goalies in the
series. Sergei Bobrovsky to Boucher to Michael Leighton back to
Boucher.

Boucher, who lost a Game 7 for the Flyers in the 2000 East
finals vs. New Jersey, is ready to build on his strong finish to
Game 6.

”I feel like I have had a solid series, aside from three
minutes,” Boucher said. ”So, I feel good about my game.”

Miller has two shutouts – and as many losses as Boucher,
Bobrovsky and Leighton.

”You have to play a calm hockey game,” Miller said.
”Sometimes, being overexcited can hurt, and I think being nervous
can hurt. I don’t think there’s any reason to be any of that.”

Home ice hasn’t been an advantage. The Flyers lost Game 1 at
home. The Sabres lost Games 3 and 6 at home.

The Flyers, though, are leaning on a bit of recent history to
assist them as they try and rally from 3-2 down to win a series.
They famously trailed Boston 3-0 in the Eastern Conference
semifinals last year and stormed back to win four straight.

They’d love a repeat.

”It’s nice to have that experience,” Richards said. ”But, at
the same time, if it’s your first or your 10th (Game 7), you’re
still nervous, excited to get it going.”