BY JAY BOEHMER, Staff Writer
The undisputed answer to the question of what this game hinged on lies in net for the Flyers. 13-4-1 when playing for the orange and black, goalie Michael Leighton was silently picked as the organization’s leading goaltender when the decision was made to not make a trade before Wednesday’s deadline. He responded that night by giving up four goals before being pulled in a 7-4 loss to the Florida Panthers.
His chance to respond and rebuild his team’s confidence in him, as well as his own, came two nights later against the star goalie of Team USA and the Buffalo Sabres and strong candidate for the Vezina Trophy as league’s best goaltender, Ryan Miller. It would not be an easy task.
Last night, it seemed the team in front of him played like themselves, and it made a world of difference for Leighton. For the most part, he only had to make one save at a time, instead of facing flurries of flying pucks.
Neither team found the back of the net until the Flyers managed it in the second period with a Lukas Krajicek pass to Simon Gagne in the slot for a quick shot that beat Ryan Miller to put the Flyers up by a goal.
A Michael Leighton miscue when playing the puck led to Thomas Vanek throwing it off his skate from below the goal line for a quick, regrettable goal that tied the score at 1.
Throughout the second and third periods, the Flyers controlled the flow of play, getting the majority of the shots and scoring chances. Unfortunately, the Sabres were far more successful at clogging the slot after the initial shot in order to prevent chances off the rebound. They often collapsed into a tight box after the shot was taken, preventing any further chances.
This smart defensive technique thwarted Philadelphia’s offense, who were unable to capitalize on any of the multitude of second and third chances they had at getting the puck past Miller.
Flyers captain Mike Richards regained the Flyers’ lead in the third with a breakaway goal after “jumping the route” and picking off a Sabres’ pass before walking in alone on Miller and burying the puck.
The game went into overtime, tied at 2 goals a piece. Play continued as it had been, until the Flyers’ inability to match Buffalo’s defensive coordination manifested itself in a Tim Connolly goal off a rebound that landed right in front of Michael Leighton.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Michael Leighton: Despite the loss, Leighton was able to come back from Wednesday night’s collapse and show that he can be a goalie to have some confidence in. He made a few mistakes, but still was able to give his team a chance to win.
Ryan Miller: At the other end of the ice, Miller did just the same. He wasn’t called on to make any spectacular saves this night, but instead he simply needed to keep out the shots he’s expected to night in and night out. He did just that, and his team’s slightly superior play edged the Flyers out in OT.
Tim Connolly: Connolly was seen all over the ice, causing trouble for the Flyers’ goalie and his defensive corps. He picked up a goal and an assist on the night, including scoring the overtime game winner by putting a rebound up over the shoulder of Michael Leighton.