The Flyers will take the HSBC Arena ice tonight with a chance to send the Buffalo Sabres fans home for the last time this season. Win, and the Flyers will need just one more in Philadelphia to eliminate the Sabres and advance on home ice this Friday. Ya know what though... Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Winning the next two—and four straight in the series—is a tall order.
Coming off a pair of wins, the momentum is clearly in the Flyers' favor. However, each of the games in this series has been decided by a single goal, aside from the empty netter Kimmo Timonen added in the waning seconds of game 3. As much as we may like what we see, there's still plenty of hockey left in this series, with room for the pendulum to swing in either direction.
That doesn't mean we shouldn't be pretty amped up for the things the Flyers are doing right.
I left out above that on their way to this narrowest of series leads, Peter Laviolette had to make a change in net. The concerns that Sergei Bobrovsky wasn't playoff-ready surfaced quickly in game 2, and Lavvy got out the hook. Bob may or may not be plenty able to backstop this team in the postseason, but it doesn't really matter at the moment, because Lavvy knew Brian Boucher likely was, and Boosh hasn't given him any reason to second guess the decision. So far, he has outdueled Ryan Miller, who allowed eight goals in his last two starts after posting a shutout in the opener.
One of the key questions coming into the series was whether the Flyers could snap their cold streak, and with it the hot streak of the Sabres. Prior to their meeting at the end of the season, they'd been able to beat Miller fairly efficiently. The opening game shutout gave us good reason to wonder whether they still could, but at the moment, the Flyers appear to have regained their ability to solve the American Hero.
They'll need to continue to create traffic in front him, disrupt his crease chi, and if there's no traffic, shoot while skating rather than stationary. Going hard at the net has produced some great results whether carrying the puck or waiting for the pass.
Of course, the Sabres will probably be trying to do the same thing to Boucher. This is hockey, not advanced military engagement. Game strategies get to sounding cliché and obvious because in a lot of ways they are. Good coaches and teams just find a way to stop what they know is coming, to do what they kno—sorry, I'm lapsing into platitudes again. Anyway, the Sabres have a lot of speed, keeping the Flyers' defense relatively honest (although the blueliners haven't been to shy about joining the rush either). We're not nearly out of the woods yet.
It's also around this point in the series when we might expect things to get a little ugly, particularly if the Flyers get an early lead. Patrick Kaleta is probably more than a little pissed after Braydon Coburn picked him pretty hard to prevent him from hitting Kimmo Timonen. Kaleta missed the rest of game 3 but is expected to play tonight (and be an ass). The Buffalo crowd was pretty amped up on Monday, and with their own playoff lives on the line tonight, I assume we'll hear them plenty throughout. Hopefully the "Booo-shaaaay" just turns to boos by about the midway point.
So enjoy the swing game tonight. Win and the series is on a home-served platter this Friday. Lose and you're back even. Interestingly (or not), the Sabres have never won a series that they've trailed by a 2-1 count.