With a full helping of bad blood between the Flyers and Sabres in their recent playoff matchups, the meeting between the two clubs on Wednesday promised a great deal of entertainment. Ryan Miller led Buffalo onto the ice, looking for revenge after being pulled in the 3-2 loss against Philadelphia in early November, while Ilya Bryzgalov donned his new "Tiger" themed gear in the Flyers' net.
With a sellout crowd at the First Niagra Center, the Sabres rode the enthusiastic energy of the home crowd to power a physical attack and an offensive explosion in the first period.
The first goal came on the power play, but in an unexpected fashion. Rather than a conventional set play, the goal could be the product of two turnovers - the first a takeaway by Braydon Coburn, and the second when Luke Adam picked the Philadelphia defenseman's pocket right in front of Ilya Bryzgalov. Adam tossed the puck to Zack Kassian, who dropped a pass to former Flyer Ville Leino, who fired a quick wrister into the open net before Bryzgalov could adjust back to cover the shot.
Kassian would factor into the next goal as well, taking the puck from the boards around the red line and cutting in and around the Philadelphia defense before firing a long shot from the top of the faceoff circle that snuck through Bryzgalov's legs.
Andrej Meszaros took a tripping call on Tyler Ennis late in the period, and Buffalo struck again on the power play. Thomas Vanek took a pass from Jason Pominville, slide to the top of the left faceoff circle, and fired a shot that ricocheted off the post and into the net.
The Flyers finally answered against Ryan Miller with less than a second to go in the opening frame. Jakub Voracek took the puck away from Nathan Gerbe, then passed off to Max Talbot at the side of the net after Miller committed to defend against the shot, leaving him vulnerable to the shot from the goal line.
Rather than celebration, however, the goal sparked a battle between Zac Rinaldo and Corey Tropp, who dropped the gloves in a high-energy tilt after post-goal faceoff. Tropp finished the battle with authority, slamming Rinaldo to the ice as the period came to an end.
The violence continued in the second period when Marc-Andre Bourdon delivered a nasty hit from behind to Nathan Gerbe along the boards. With the referee already calling for a penalty, Matt Ellis decided to take matters into his own hands. Dropping the gloves, the battle was fairly spirited, but Bourdon endured the blows while still landing a few of his own, and the two finally separated in an anticlimactic finish.
Bourdon's boarding call was balanced out by Ellis' instigator, and the teams continued at even strength. Claude Giroux pursued the puck deep into the Buffalo zone, then sent a pass back to Kimmo Timmonen at the right point. Timmonen then sent the puck along the blue line to Matt Read, and the rookie unloaded a long slapper that bounced off a Buffalo defender and into the net to cut the Buffalo lead down to one.
Giroux picked up his second assist of the night after intercepting a Tyler Ennis pass at the left faceoff dot, then set up Scott Hartnell at the opposite dot. Hartnell held the puck, staring down Miller, then fired a bullet past Miller's glove side shoulder to tie the match with just over five minutes left in the second.
Two minutes later, Giroux scooped up a loose puck in the neutral zone and sent it to Jaromir Jagr, and the 39 year old proved he still has some of the most lethal moves in the NHL, muscling through both Brayden McNabb and Andrej Sekera before whipping a hard wrister home. The goal was his ninth of the season and the 655th goal of his NHL career, putting him one behind Brendan Shanahan on the overall NHL scoring list.
The Flyers rode their rally into the dressing room (without additional fisticuffs this time), and seemed content to lock down with a bit of a trap in the third period. Limiting the Sabres to two shots in the first 18 minutes of the period, Buffalo pulled Ryan Miller for the extra attacker with two minutes to go, but he had barely reached the bench when Jason Pominville took the puck from behind the Flyers' net and found Drew Stafford lurking just below the faceoff circle. Stafford unloaded a quick one-timer to the top corner of the net, and the Sabres had finally gotten back onto the board after four unanswered Philadelphia goals.
Buffalo had two more opportunities to take the game in regulation, but Bryzgalov regained his composure and kept control as time expired.
In the overtime, Miller faced one shot from Coburn early, but the majority of the pressure was on Bryzgalov as the Sabres attempted to shake the Russian goaltender's confidence. Standing tall in his net, he was rewarded for his work almost at the exact midpoint of the extra period. Giroux stole a cross-ice pass from Marc-Andre Gragnani and broke cleanly past the defense and raced into the Buffalo zone.
Ryan Miller left his net to challenge Giroux all the way to the top of the slot, then faded back. Giroux outwaited Miller and unleashed a perfect shot through the five hole to end the game as his teammates leapt from the bench to celebrate.
The goal was Giroux's fourth point of the night and moved him to 36 points on the season, putting him back on top of the NHL scoring list over Phil Kessel. Giroux needs one more goal to move into a tie for the Rocket Richard race.