The situation seemed all too familiar to the sold-out crowd in orange at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Friday night. After their Flyers fell behind 3-0 in a first period that was more like a comedy of errors than a hockey game, they had clawed back to tie Game 5 against the Buffalo Sabres.
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However, the result was not to be the same as their three-goal comeback in Boston just one year prior. Tyler Ennis made sure of that.
Ennis beat backup goaltender Michael Leighton on a rebound just 5:31 into overtime to give Buffalo the 4-3 overtime victory and force the Flyers into facing a do-or-die Game 6 matchup in Buffalo on Sunday.
Although the Flyers faithful were ready for their team to stampede Buffalo after Game 4’s result and the aftermath that featured a war of words between the teams, they were treated to more agony early on in Game 5. Whether it was Patrick Kaleta’s antics that irked the Flyers in Game 4 or Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff’s suggestion that the team was full of “whiners,” there was an extra air of intensity at puck drop. But, with the assistance of Flyers starting goalie Brian Boucher, that intensity would disappear quickly.
If it’s springtime in Philadelphia, the goalie situation must be a storyline. Boucher let in two soft goals and a power-play tally in the game’s first 15:36, paving the way for the man who allowed last season’s Stanley Cup-clinching goal to return to the Flyers’ crease.
Backup goalie Michael Leighton’s insertion into the lineup and some much more impressive offensive play spurred the Flyers to a two-goal second period that saw the team display the aggressive and physical style it showed at its highest points this season.
“I think at that point, when it’s 3-0 we need to make a change,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said afterward. “I thought Michael came in and he did a good job for us. There weren’t a lot of chances in the game, but certainly in that point of the second period …”
Much like last year’s Game 7 comeback against the Bruins, Friday’s was started by a James van Riemsdyk goal. Next, Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros hammered a point shot that beat Ryan Miller just 1:45 after the first tally. With the orange-clad crowd offering support, the Flyers kept the heat on Buffalo until the second intermission.
Then just 3:36 into the third period, the man who left Buffalo via free agency in 2007, Daniel Briere, came back to bite the Sabres as he tied the game 3-3. On a beautiful forecheck and pass from Kris Versteeg and Mike Richards, respectively, Briere beat Miller and the applause erupted. After controlling play, the Flyers failed to take the lead, and overtime awaited the two teams.
But despite the remarkable comeback, it was Ennis and the Sabres who had the final laugh. When Leighton made a hard pad save on a blast from defenseman Mike Weber, Ennis was there to clean up the rebound. And the Flyers were there to face their looming mortality.
“I saw [the puck] pop out. I just tried to get to the net and I knew [Weber] was shooting it so I was just hoping that he would kick it to me,” Ennis said. “I saw [the puck] there, it was pretty exciting. It was an awesome feeling when it went in.”
Leighton once again saw the final goal in the net behind him in a playoff game.
“It’s a tough situation,” Leighton said with a look of powerlessness. “The defenseman has to go out and block the puck, and it kind of puts a little bit of a screen on me … it’s just a play that has to happen. The defense has to [step up] and it was just kind of a lucky bounce right on the guy’s tape.”
As tough as the final goal was on Leighton, it was perhaps even tougher on the previously deafening crowd. The back-breaker sent them home quickly, quietly and stunned. If the Flyers fail to extend the series on Sunday, the same adjectives will be used by pundits across the continent about their playoff run. Quick. Quiet. Stunning.
Count forward Claude Giroux among the minority of those who don’t expect to hear those adjectives quite yet.
“We don’t do things around here according to plan,” Giroux said. “We just find a way to get it done. This is one situation that we got to find a way to get it done.”
At this point, it’s either “get it done” or “get done in” for the Flyers. And the loud sea of orange won’t be around to help them Sunday.