By Jon Smith:
In just about every playoff game, there is a singular moment you can look to as the deciding point in the game, and Game 3 was no different.
At 6:59 in the 3rd period, as Darroll Powe joined Nikolay Zherdev in the penalty box, the Flyers were faced with 1:45 of a 5-on-3 penalty kill nursing a one goal lead. Sometimes game defining moments sneak up on you, and sometimes you see them coming. Everyone saw this one coming. Using a combination of blocked shots, timely clears, and big saves by newly appointed goalie Brian Boucher, the Flyers killed off the huge penalty and rode the momentum to victory and a 2-1 lead in the series. Buffalo fans will scream and shout and cry about the fact that Brian Boucher threw off his broken mask halfway through the 5 on 3, and how it killed the flow of the powerplay. Flyers fans would prefer to see it as a crafty move by a veteran who knew he had a mask issue and addressed it immediately.
Whether you are a Bobrovsky fan or a Boucher fan, it’s hard to argue that Boucher brought calm and composure between the pipes in Game 3. Bobrovsky may have the physical talent to be a top-notch goalie someday, but as was seen in Game 2, the game can sometimes overwhelm him at this point in his career. Boucher was good, not great, in making 35 saves including 11 in the third period.
Another important addition to the lineup on Monday was Nikolay Zherdev. The enigmatic Russian has shown flashes of greatness this year with 22 points in 56 games (16 goals) but has also spent lengthy time in the coach’s doghouse because of his lazy play in the defensive zone. Zherdev has always come back from being scratched with good effort and Game 3 was no different. He back-checked well, made good decisions with the puck and oh yeah, had the winning goal on a nifty tic-tac-toe play from Versteeg and Richards. People are talking about the great patience and skill of Richards to make the pass to the wide open Zherdev; however, Versteeg also made a great play on the forecheck to steal the puck and make a cross ice pass to Richards.
Buffalo came out flying in the 2011 home playoff opener, peppering Boucher with 16 first period shots. The Flyers weathered the storm, with the help of Boucher, and came out of the first period with a 1-1 tie, despite only putting 6 shots on Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. Throughout the year the Flyers were a great second period team, outscoring their opponents 94 to 68 in 2011. Game 3 was no different as the Flyers came out of the locker room roaring and put 15 shots on Miller, including goals by local villain Danny Briere as well as Zherdev.
One constant theme through three games in this series has been it’s physicality. By the stat sheet, Buffalo out-hit the Flyers 26-14. I tend to think that’s a little home cooking by the stat tracker as the hits appeared to be mostly even. However, while the intensity and physical play didn’t subside, the penalties did. Thirteen penalties were called in the game, down from the ridiculous 22 minors called in Game 2. The Flyers scored a power play goal for the second game in a row, possibly an indicator that they are slowly but surely getting their troubled power play on track. The penalty kill was a clutch 5 of 6, including the defining 5 on 3.
This all sets up a huge Game 4 on Wednesday. It’s basically do or die for Buffalo. Having to come back to Philadelphia down three games to one would be as close to a death sentence there is. Meanwhile, a Buffalo win gives them all the momentum coming back to Philadelphia in a tied series. If the Flyers can maintain the intensity they’ve shown on the forecheck and the smart plays they have been making in the defensive zone, combined with the “calming” influence of Boucher, they should be on a path to wrap up the series on Friday in Game 5.
PhillySportsCentral.com – Philadelphia sports news, rumors, blogs, & message board discussion forums