Providing his third game-winning goal in as many games for Philadelphia, Claude Giroux put home his 16th goal of the season just past the midway point of overtime to hand the Flyers a 5-4 win in Buffalo to cap a rousing contest Wednesday. He also had three assists on the night for a four-point game as Matt Read, Scott Hartnell, and Jaromir Jagr all scored in the second period to turn a Flyers’ 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead heading into the third.
Ilya Bryzgalov made 20 saves on 24 Sabres’ shots as Ville Leino scored the game’s opening goal in Buffalo’s fourth straight loss to the Flyers dating back to Game 6 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Giroux already had three assists on the night when he grabbed a Marc-Andre Gragnani cross ice pass leading to his breakaway on Ryan Miller in the overtime period. Kicking up his skate to fake a shot before going forehand-backhand-forehand, Giroux put the puck five-hole on Buffalo’s netminder for the game-winner 2:37 into the extra frame. The goal was Giroux’s fifth game-winner of the season as he has provided the winner in each game of the Flyers’ current three-game winning streak.
The tally also pushed the 23-year-old into the NHL’s scoring lead with 36 points — one ahead of idle Phil Kessel of Toronto.
Going back to the start of the game, the Flyers handed the Sabres the first power-play opportunity after Kimmo Timonen hooked Zach Kassian in front of Bryzgalov just 5:37 after the opening faceoff.
Limiting the Sabres to only a Drew Stafford shot on the power play, the Flyers killed off Timonen’s minor while nearly scoring in the process. Jumping on a loose puck in the neutral zone, Read gained a breakaway against Miller. Unfortunately, Read lost control of the puck trying to switch it to his backhand failing to register a shot on net.
Buffalo provided a flurry of shots on Bryzgalov before the Flyers produced their second strong scoring chance of the game. Max Talbot had the puck on his backhand moving in on Miller before a diving Christian Ehrhoff knocked the puck away.
Shortly after Talbot’s chance, Zac Rinaldo was called for a holding-the-stick minor to give the Sabres another power play midway through the first period. Instead of blowing their second man advantage chance, the Sabres cashed in to take the early lead.
After a turnover at the Flyers’ blue line, a pretty passing play set up former Flyer Leino with a wide open net for his third tally of the season. Luke Adam was at the top of the circle to Bryzgalov’s left when he passed it across the ice to Kassian. In a perfect situation for Kassian to put home the shot with his backhand, Bryzgalov dropped to his knees sliding cross-crease expecting the easy goal leaving Leino with a wide open net at the 10:16 mark for a 1-0 game.
Leino’s goal motivated the Flyers to provide a surge of offensive pressure before finally earning their first power play of the evening.
Rinaldo, making up for his minor earlier in the game, laid out Tyler Ennis in the Flyers’ defensive zone drawing a retaliatory roughing minor from Joe Finley.
Throwing five shots at the Sabres’ net, Philly forced Miller into three saves as they failed to convert on their first power-play chance.
Following the power play, the Flyers earned another breakaway opportunity. Poking the puck out into the neutral zone, Jagr grabbed the loose puck up the middle and walked in on Miller by himself. Just before he tried to deke, Miller’s stick-check at the top of the crease forced the veteran to lose control.
Dictating most of the play for the remainder of the period, the Flyers somehow allowed the Sabres to put home two more goals in quick succession.
Skating into the Flyers’ defensive zone in a dead space between three players, Kassian let go of a wrister that eluded Bryzgalov’s reach and went top-shelf for his third goal of the season with only 1:05 left in the period.
Only 34 seconds after Kassian’s goal, Andrej Meszaros tripped Ennis at the Flyers’ blue line as the Sabre was going to blow by the defender. Meszaros was only in the box for eight seconds before the Sabres jumped out to a 3-0 lead.
Being the benefactor of poor coverage by Bryzgalov, Thomas Vanek put home a power-play tally with only 23 seconds on the clock. Letting go of a wrister from the left-wing side, Vanek’s shot hit the goaltender in the mid-section before squeaking to the top of Bryzgalov’s leg pad on the goal line and eventually into the back of the net.
The last-minute scoring frenzy wasn’t over as the Flyers were able to limit the Sabres’ three-goal lead to only a 21-second duration.
Stealing the puck at the Sabres’ blue line, Jakub Voracek drove into the slot drawing Miller towards him before dishing the puck to Talbot, who was parked at the bottom of the circle to Miller’s left. With the netminder out of position, Talbot put home his seventh of the season with a little over a second remaining in the period. The goal stood once a review determined the puck crossed the goal line before the green light flashed.
If three goals in the final 1:05 wasn’t enough action, Rinaldo decided to drop the gloves with the slightly bigger Corey Tropp. The fight capped off a crazy ending to the first twenty minutes of action.
To open the second period, Voracek nearly cut the deficit to one goal as he missed a shot on a 2-on-1 opportunity only 30 seconds in.
A little over a minute later, Miller looked to have suffered another head injury as his helmet came off in a scrum in front of his own net. Miller was fine after play was halted for a few minutes to let the goalie recover.
Moments after Miller’s incident, Marc-Andre Bourdon nailed diminutive Nathan Gerbe from behind and into the boards at the red line in front of the penalty boxes. Aware of the fact his play was rather dirty, Bourdon prepared himself for at least one angry Sabre to respond to his actions. Standing up for his teammate, Matt Ellis traded punches with Bourdon in the Flyers’ defensive zone as he earned an instigator, while Bourdon earned a boarding minor.
Two minutes after the scrap, the Flyers cut their deficit to one goal as Read picked up his 11th goal of the season. After a Christian Ehrhoff turnover in the neutral zone, Giroux was able to beat out everybody else into the corner to Miller’s left to gain control of the puck. Wrapping the puck around to Timonen at the left point, he flipped a shot that hit Read and changed directions as it passed Miller into the Sabres’ net.
After Read’s goal, the Flyers needed to kill off the Sabres’ fourth power-play opportunity of the night as James van Riemsdyk held Andrej Sekera’s shoulder as both players headed into the corner for a loose puck to Miller’s right.
But the visitors killed off JVR’s penalty, then found a way to tie the game at 3-3 due to a Hartnell blast from long distance.
Giroux forced Ellis into a turnover near the boards to Miller’s right before sliding it over to Hartnell, who was at the bottom of the outer edge of the right circle. His wrister in a tight space hit Ehrhoff’s left skate and zipped past Miller’s right ear for his 12th goal of the season with 5:15 remaining in the second.
The game didn’t stay tied for long, as Jagr dipsy-doodled his way through a wave of Sabres and ripped home his ninth goal of the season to finally give Philadelphia the lead at 4-3. After receiving the puck from Giroux in the neutral zone, Jagr maneuvered his way into the Sabres’ defensive zone past two defenders before unleashing a quick wrister through a screen with 2:12 left in the middle stanza.
With the exception of a punishing Rinaldo hit on Sekera in the corner to Miller’s right, the closing of the second period came to a rather quiet close as the Flyers entered the final period with a one-goal lead.
Early in the third period, Leino decided to take out some of his frustration from his lackluster season on the back of Read’s head. As the Flyers rookie controlled the puck at the point, Leino came in and elbowed Read while he was looking down. No penalty was called on the play, but Leino might be hearing from Brendan Shanahan fairly soon.
Just before the first commercial break in the third period, Giroux nearly had his his fourth assist on the night. Driving into the zone, Giroux tailed off towards the boards to Miller’s left near the faceoff dot before backhanding a pass to Matt Carle at the point. Gliding in with an open path to Miller, Carle was only able to muster a wrister into the middle of Miller’s chest to keep the Flyers’ lead at one goal.
Later in the period, the Flyers looked as though they were going to walk their way to a victory as they started dominating puck possession, but a Stafford backhander nearly tied the game at four. After being passed the puck in the slot, Stafford let go of a backhanded shot while spinning towards Bryzgalov. Sprawling to make a great kick save, Bryzgalov denied the shot into the corner to his right to keep the score 4-3 with less than four minutes left in the game.
Unfortunately for Philly, Stafford had another scoring chance with under two minutes left, but this time he registered the game-tying goal. As Miller skated to the Buffalo bench for an extra attacker, Jason Pominville stopped the puck behind Bryzgalov before throwing a pass next to the right goal post to Stafford in the slot. Making up for his missed chance just a few minutes earlier, Stafford put the shot in the top corner of the net above Bryzgalov’s glove for his fifth goal of the season with only 1:35 left in regulation.
Shifting momentum for the final minute of regulation, the Sabres provided several threatening scoring chances on Bryzgalov, but they couldn’t find their fifth goal of the game as the teams entered overtime tied at four goals apiece.
Two minutes into overtime, Hartnell was able to whack a bouncing puck in the slot that fluttered its way to Miller for Philly’s first scoring chance in the extra frame.
The Flyers’ second scoring chance came on the Giroux breakaway, which ultimately ended the game.
Recording seven points in the last three games, Giroux is fast becoming the fulcrum around which the Flyers are turning. After a disappointing performance against the New York Rangers on November 26, Giroux has exploded for three game-winning goals and four assists and continues to build his Hart Trophy resume. In some cases the game-winning goal isn’t always a noteworthy stat, but since two of the Flyers’ last three wins came in overtime, Giroux has been coming through in the clutch.
As if tomorrow night’s match against the Pittsburgh Penguins wasn’t hyped up enough, the Flyers could gain the division lead with a win or overtime loss tomorrow night in Philadelphia as they trail the Pens by one point in the standings with two games in hand. Expectations will be heightened since Sidney Crosby will miss the next two games as a precaution after colliding with teammate Chris Kunitz in Monday’s loss to Boston.
Notes: The Flyers are currently working on their third three-game winning streak of the season and have won five of their last six overall…Tonight was Giroux’s second four-point game of the season (third of his career) and is now one point in front of Phil Kessel for the league lead in points with 36 (16 goals and 20 assists)…Giroux joins the Kings’ Jack Johnson as the only players in the league with two overtime goals this season…Giroux’s five game-winning goals this season tie him with Detroit’s Johan Franzen for the league lead…Needing 40 games to reach the 12-goal mark last season, Hartnell reached the same mark in 26 games this season…With the addition of Friday’s win against the Ducks in overtime, this is the third time in team history the Flyers have come back from a 3-0 deficit twice in a season and it’s the quickest they’ve done so (12/6/1979 PHI 9- LA 4 and 2/17/1980 PHI 6- PIT 5—10/17/1991 PHI 5- QUE 3 and 3/12/1992 PHI 5- CGY 4 OT)…Carle played a season-high 27:44 tonight…After missing the last four games, JVR had 2 PIM and 5 shots in 15:40 TOI…With his goal late in the game, Stafford is one away from 100 career goals in the NHL…Tonight was Kassian’s first two-point game in the NHL as the rookie registered three points in his first five games this season…The Flyers improved to 2-0-0 on the season against the Sabres and are now 6-1-0 against the Northeast Division this season (BOS 1-0-0, TOR 1-0-0, BUF 2-0-0, OTT 1-0-0, MTL 1-1-0).