The Flyers’ locker room was jovial after clinching the Atlantic Division, Saturday night. All the waiting and wondering about the playoffs had ended, and now they could get set to face the Buffalo Sabres.
The series begins Thursday and, for this round, at home.
After stumbling through the last month or two of the regular season, the Flyers finished up with a 7-4 victory over the New York Islanders Saturday night. It wasn’t spectacular play, but it was interesting, and now they’re back where they’ve wanted to be all season.
“We got it done,” said defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who had a four-point night. “We got the two points. That’s all that matters now. Get a good rest, and get ready for the playoffs.”
The playoffs begin Thursday, against the Sabres, a quick young offensive team with a hot goaltender in Ryan Miller. Miller’s been playing lights out lately, including finishing off Friday night’s overtime win against the Flyers after coming in relief of Jhonas Enroth. He’s the kind of netminder who can steal a game and equalize things for the Sabres.
“Yeah, they have a lot of offense,” said forward Scott Hartnell. “A lot of skilled guys—always fast. You’ve got to stay out of the box.”
The Flyers are known for a rough style of play. They’ve averaged 13.6 penalty minutes per game, ranking them 23 in that category. The Sabres, finished with 11.7, finishing 15th.
“Not too long. You know, they gave us a good game there obviously, losing in overtime,” Hartnell said about the Sabres while referring to Friday night’s, 4-3, loss. “You know they’re going to come in here with a lot of confidence. We have to shut them down quick. Be hard on them. They have the young skilled snipers with a lot of speed. A good counter to that is hitting them. Knock them off the puck. That’s Flyers’ hockey, so we match up well.”
The goaltending battle will likely be between the Russian rookie Sergei Bobrovsky and Miller. It’s a match-up the Flyers hope the young netminder can win, but he’s been inconsistent of late, including being pulled against the Isles, in favor of Brian Boucher. There remains several questions, and bringing back last season’s playoff goaltender, Michael Leighton, may be a look into the future.
Flyer’s coach Peter Laviolette spoke bluntly on the topic.
“I stated my intentions a week ago, and from this point on you won’t get anything out of me,” said the Flyers’ second year coach.
Last week, Laviolette reported that Leighton’s return to the team was for added depth at the position only. He said, Bobrovsky was the undisputed No. 1 going into the playoffs, and Boucher would be his backup. The two have worked in tandem over the course of the season, and things at goal have been relatively decent.
At times, Bobrovsky has put up stellar performances. However, he’s allowed bad goals at times, most notably on breakaways.
If Bobrovsky falters, it’s likely Leighton will get a chance at redemption of last season’s Stanley Cup finals loss. Either way, the Flyers are back where they wanted, and have a chance at hockey’s greatest prize.
“You’re going to wake up tomorrow, and it will be a different atmosphere,” said Laviolette. “It’s playoff time.”