PHILADELPHIA – Ville Leino and Danny Briere scored clutch goals, goaltender Brian Boucher delivered again in the postseason and the Philadelphia Flyers outlasted the Buffalo Sabres 5-4 on Saturday to even their first-round series at a game apiece.
Boucher, one of many unlikely playoff stars when the Flyers orchestrated a surprising run to the Stanley Cup finals last season, relieved Sergei Bobrovsky after the rookie allowed three goals on seven shots.
Introduced to the familiar strains of "Booosh," Boucher stopped 17 straight shots into the third, and brought a calming sense to what was becoming a video game-like contest, stuffed with goals, penalties, fights and controversy.
Thomas Vanek scored two power-play goals for the Sabres, and Andrej Sekera and Cody McCormick also scored.
Game 3 of the best-of-seven series is Monday night in Buffalo.
The Flyers and Sabres combined for six goals, almost 30 penalty minutes and three goalies in the first period. There was still 40 minutes left — and each team thrilled down to the final seconds.
The frustration from Game 1's punchless offense was taken out with punches almost from the opening faceoff.
Paul Gaustad cross-checked Briere on a faceoff, and Scott Hartnell backed Briere by triggering a quick fight with Gaustad. It wasn't much of a bout. Gaustad yanked Hartnell's sweater over his face and unloaded his fists on his face. Both players then hit the penalty box.
The Philly crowd, which had nothing to cheer about in Game 1, went wild and suddenly it felt like playoff hockey.
At that point, it was already 1-1. Claude Giroux needed only 4 minutes to put the Flyers in front, then pounded on the glass in a celebration that riled up the orange-and-black diehards.
Vanek tied it just 2:43 later.
Bobrovsky had earned the nod from coach Peter Laviolette after a solid rookie season. The Flyers used Boucher and Michael Leighton in their run to the Stanley Cup finals last season, so there's no guarantee "Bob" gets another chance.
Bobrovksy allowed soft goals to Vanek and Sekera and that was all for him.
The goals came back-to-back in the first to help Buffalo build a 3-2 lead.
The Flyers were bailed out when James van Riemsdyk fired a wrister off the post past Ryan Miller to tie it again.
Miller failed to build off his sensational 35-save shutout in Game 1. The Flyers insisted at Friday's practice that they didn't see the type of performance out of Miller that made it seem as if he would be unstoppable in the series.
The Flyers pounded Miller most of the first two periods and finally cashed in on the power play when Leino made it 4-3 in the second. In an absolutely futile special teams effort, the Flyers failed to cash in on two 5-on-3 attempts after going scoreless in a Game 1 two-man advantage attempt.
But Leino, a playoff star a year ago, gave the Flyers the lead on a short-side power-play wrister. Briere, a former Sabres co-captain, added a lucky breathing-room goal.
The Sabres sliced the lead to 5-4 in the third when McCormick tipped Rob Niedermayer's backhander past Boucher.
That sets up a tough decision for Laviolette: Back to Bobrovsky or stick with Boucher?
No matter who is in net, the Flyers would love to have Chris Pronger back on the blue line. Pronger did not play for the second straight playoff game because as he recovers from a broken right hand. He remains day to day. Pronger has said he's very confident he'll play in this series.
Dan Carcillo also scored for the Flyers in the frantic first period. He was left all alone at the tip of the crease and had an easy look off a rebound that made it 2-1.
Giroux was mixed up in the skirmish of the game in the first. He whacked, whacked, whacked the puck while Miller covered and the Sabres took exception. Buffalo's Nathan Gerbe pressed Giroux against the boards and smacked his face. Giroux simply smirked and laughed during the exchange and both players where whistled for roughing.
NOTES: The last time six goals were scored in one period in a Flyers' playoff game was May 20, 1997. The Flyers scored four and the Rangers had two. ... Sabres D Shaone Morrisonn did not play after getting hit in Game 1 and is day to day with an undisclosed injury. ... Sekera returned after missing three games with an upper-body injury.