The Buffalo Sabres defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 7-1 in Game 6 to clinch the best of seven series four games to two. In a game that was only in doubt for the first ten to fifteen minutes, Buffalo proved that they could play their style of hockey (speed and skill) on the road, as well as at home.
The first period started out with both teams taking minor penalties in the first five minutes. That broke up the flow of the game but did provide both clubs with excellent scoring opportunities early on. Both Ryan Miller and Robert Esche made key saves during those penalties. Miller also made a huge save on Derian Hatcher during a short handed rush by Philly just over five minutes into the period. It was obvious right from the start that Miller was on his game. Miller faced 22 shots and didn’t let in the lone goal until the Sabres were already ahead 5-0 and the game was all but over.
At the other end of the ice Esche reverted back to his Game 2 form and allowed 5 goals on 17 shots. Buffalo had a 3 goal lead after the first period and Philly needed to come out strong early in the second period to get a goal and get back into the game. Esche allowed 2 more goals on 3 shots during the first 7:19 of the period. Esche headed to the bench in favor of Antero Niittymaki and the Philly fans headed to the exits.
In addition to the solid goaltending from Miller, the Sabres got offense from an unexpected source; the Drury line. Chris Drury, Mike Grier, and Derek Roy accounted for 4 goals and 7 assists. Roy had been having a rough series up until tonight’s game but this was has turn to break out. Roy finished the night with 1 goal and 2 assists. Even before he scored his goal late in the first he was flying around the ice and creating chances. With Roy making a solid contribution to that line every night it makes it difficult for opposing teams to decide how to match up against Buffalo line for line.
Buffalo’s speed and smart decision making was evident early on. Buffalo had a number of odd man rushes all night long and they had the Flyers chasing them around the ice trying to get to the puck. Ales Kotalik scored the second goal of the night after Tim Connolly beat Philly to the puck following a soft dump-in into the Flyers zone. The puck eventually came out of the corner to Kotalik in the left face off circle and he fired it past Esche.
Buffalo’s fourth and fifth goals were scored on odd man rushes. The fourth goal was scored by Jason Pominville after Toni Lydman set up him with a drop pass during a 3-on-1 break. Max Afinogenov scored the next goal off a one-time pass from Daniel Briere during a 2-on-1 break. Briere showed great patience on that goal by waiting an extra second for the defender to move clear so the pass could get through to Afinogenov.
Philly was finally able to beat Miller late in the second period after the Sabres defenders collapsed too low into the crease. Branco Radivojevic scored on a screen shot from just outside the crease. Any chance that Philly had of gaining momentum after that goal was squashed 49 seconds later when Drury fought hard in the Flyers crease to knock his own rebound over the goal line. That goal gave Buffalo a 6-1 lead at 19:46 of the second period. Drury followed that up with a short handed goal 2:12 into the third period. The score remained 7-1 the rest of the way as both teams seemed to let up over the final ten minutes of play.
Buffalo was aggressive on the fore check and the back check and had an excellent transition game working tonight. The speed and aggressiveness of the Sabres caused the Flyers to give the puck away 22 times to Buffalo’s 6. This part of the Sabres game was most evident when they were killing penalties. Philly went 0-for-5 with the man advantage and they had very few scoring opportunities on the power play. Buffalo kept the puck to the outside of the zone and beat the Flyers to loose pucks setting up dump outs and rushes the other way.