Like the rest of their countrymen, Philadelphia loves America and her heroes.
Just not Ryan Miller.
The Buffalo Sabres goaltender was as impenetrable as Regan’s “Star Wars” defense Thursday night, saving 35 shots in a 1-0 shutout win against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the Wells Fargo Center.
Miller, who won the silver metal for team USA in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, playing in his 41st career playoff game, was impressive all night long blowing through more lines than Robert Downey Jr.
Game 2 of the series is Saturday night in Philadelphia and with news that assistant captain defensemen Chris Pronger will sit his second straight game it’s still too early for the Flyers to go into panic mode.
Opposite net of Miller in Game 1 rookie Sergei Bobrovsky got the starting nod from head coach Peter Laviolette saving 24 shots in his first career playoff game. The 22-year old was as athletic and impressive as ever in the crease and it didn’t take an amateur hockey fan to see that the Flyers outplayed Buffalo in nearly every aspect of the game. But as Bobrovsky has done all season, there was that one that got away.
Thursday night it just happen to be the game winner off a rebound from Buffalo right winger Patrick Kaleta.
Saturday night the Flyers will have one objective for Game 2. Attack, attack, attack Miller.
The strategy isn’t that much different from the approach the Flyers took against Miller in Game 1 directing a whopping 74 shots at Buffalo’s net. It was Millers sixth shut out of the season while Bobrovsky and the Flyers have none.
Even without Pronger on the ice, the Flyers intensity thrived off the ecstatic 19 thousand plus fans tying a season high with 40 hits.
Despite the intensity, the Flyers struggled like they have all season (16.6%, 19th in the NHL) on the power play going 0-5 overall including a blown 5-on-3 opportunity.
Forget focusing on just Game 2, if Philadelphia expects to beat Miller and the Sabres this series they must capitalize on the power play. With an offense that thrives on scrappy none glamorous goals, the Flyers are made for scoring in the playoffs and they will if they keep hammering the net.
Defensively the Flyers did a phenomenal job in Game 1 of staying out of the penalty box, killing the Sabres only power play opportunity. Staying out of the box will once again be key for Philadelphia in Game 2 especially with a young Bobrovsky in the net. If Philadelphia can’t stay out of the box they can still score having the leagues second best 13 short handed goals during the regular season.
There’s little’s doubt the “Bob” will get the start in the net but Laviolette has the luxury of having goaltenders Brian Boucher (6-6, 2009-10 playoffs) and Michael Leighton (8-3, 2009-10 playoffs) fresh off waivers on the Flyers bench.
Pronger’s absence without a doubt played a part in the loss and the Flyers await anxiously for his return going 6-4-6 since his latest injury dating back to March 10. Since then their No. 1 seed slipped to the Washington Capitols and they find themselves down 0-1 to Buffalo. Yet unlike the end of the regular season, the Flyers seemed to turn it up for Game 1 of the playoffs. Unfortunately so did Buffalo who are coming into the playoffs on a torrid hot streak.
Although the Flyers pulled off the miraculous comeback to beat Boston with four straight wins in last years Eastern Conference Semi Finals, Philadelphia doesn’t have history on their side Saturday with the winner of Game 1 in the past eight playoff match ups between Buffalo and Philadelphia having gone on to win the series. Overall the Flyers have dropped 20 of there last 34 series after losing Game 1.
Philadelphia has made it a trend down the regular season stretch to pull positives out of losses. If they keep it up in the playoffs it’s going to be one negative summer.