If you want an interesting microcosm of everything that’s right and wrong about the Philadelphia Flyers, today’s resourceful 5-4 overtime Game 6 win over the Buffalo Sabres might be ideal.
On the bad side, you have Michael Leighton’s laughably bad first period. Even people who expected the goalie to look rusty were probably surprised to see him allow three awful goals on only eight shots in one period of duty. Another ugly element of the game was Mike Richards’ hit on Tim Connolly. Richards sent Connolly head-first into the boards with a check from behind but only received a two-minute minor penalty.
Before you roll your eyes at the complaint that Richards didn’t get booted out of the game, chew on this: he was on the ice for Philadelphia’s game-tying and game-winning goals. Then again, that love-it-or-hate-it style suits the Flyers really well, as they found to way a win thanks to their deep reservoir of quality forwards.
Philadelphia 5, Buffalo 4 (OT); Series tied at 3-3.
Ville Leino scored a goal that felt a little like a grittier version of Nathan Horton’s OT winner against the Montreal Canadiens last night. Leino found himself on the doorstep when a rebound bounced his way and the Sabres’ defense couldn’t react quickly enough to keep him from scoring that sudden death tally.
The Flyers fell behind 2-0, 3-1 and 4-3 in this game but came back every time. This marks the second straight game in which this series went to overtime, but this time Philly came through with their season on the line.
There will be some controversy over the Richards hit for sure; in fact, there might even be a suspension if the league’s feeling courageous (though we wouldn’t bet on it). You can decide for yourself if the Richards hit is suspension-worthy by watching this video of two big hits: Richards on Connolly and Tyler Myers on Kris Versteeg.
Ultimately, it almost seems proper that this series will go to the limit. After all, every game in this series was decided by one goal (discounting one Philly empty-netter). Each team now has two regulation wins and one overtime victory each. It’s been an even-matched and increasingly contentious series, so Game 7 should be an absolute blast to watch.
Here’s Ville Leino’s game-winning goal in overtime.
Game 7 outlook
On one hand, the Flyers realize that they can come back from some formidable odds. They managed to tie Game 5 up after falling behind 3-0 but lost in overtime, yet this time around, they were able to dig themselves out of a 3-1 first period hole.
Even if they’ve shown the resiliency to fight back after falling behind, it’s obvious that the Flyers would like to avoid this situation in Game 7. Some might expect a goalie controversy after Leighton’s flop, but with two relief wins, it would be very surprising to see anyone but Boucher in net.
(You really never know when it comes to the Flyers and their goalies, though.)
One thing seems clear, at least if Game 6 is any indication: Chris Pronger simply isn’t healthy enough to be a significant contributor for the Flyers right now. His time on ice was just 4:33 in Game 6.
The funny thing about this series is that Philadelphia receives all this criticism, yet Buffalo has problems of their own. It’s probably unfair to throw Ryan Miller under the bus (he stopped 44 out of 49 shots), but their defense deserves some serious scrutiny.
Buffalo blew a three-goal lead in Game 5 before winning in OT and three different leads in this loss. As dangerous as the Flyers might be, that remains unacceptable for a team hoping to make a dark horse run in the 2011 playoffs.
There are plenty of questions on both sides, but all that does is set up what should be a thrilling Game 7 confrontation. Will the Flyers force their way to the second round or will the Sabres mildly upset the second seed? Either way, the biggest winners are hockey fans.