PHILADELPHIA - If you listened very closely to the well-spoken orange-clad Philadelphia Flyer fans at the raucous Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night, you would almost swear that the name of the guy wearing No. 36 for the Buffalo Sabres was Patrick (Bleepin’) Kaleta.
And, along those same lines, that the acrobatic goaltender in the visitors net was Ryan (#%$@*&!) Miller.
In Kaleta’s case, he’s the type of player who normally gets under the skins of opponents by physically and verbally agitating them on each and every grinding shift.
But in Game 1 of this first round series between the Flyers and visiting Buffalo Sabres, it was Kaleta’s scoring prowess - no, we’re not joking about that - that provided the most frustration to the home side.
On a night when Miller, the defending Vezina Trophy winner, was his usual outstanding self, it was Kaleta - he of the 17 career goals - who provided all the offence the Sabres would need.
Kaleta had missed 16 of the Sabres previous 17 games with a knee ailment, part of an injury-plagued season that left coach Lindy Ruff debating right up until Thursday if he should put the youngster in the lineup.
You can bet Ruff is glad he did.
“I wanted to go out there and be a positive contributor to the team and I was fortunate to get a goal,” an overjoyed Kaleta said after the Sabres 1-0 victory. “I was pretty excited, especially because I’ve been unfortunate with a few injuries.”
When Kaleta knocked home a rebound past Sergei Bobrovksy at 5:56 of the third period to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead, the game reverted to Miller Time.
The Sabres goalie slammed the door shut on Philadelphia’s cache of sharpshooters the rest of the way, ending up with 33 saves to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven first round matchup.
By taking the opener in front of the usual raucous throng at the Wells Fargo Center, the Sabres have now grappled home ice advantage away from the favoured Flyers, who finished the regular season as the second seed in the east.
Of course, looking at this clash as a two-versus-seven matchup would be misleading,
While the Sabres closed out the regular campaign on an 8-1-1 run, the Flyers stumbled across the finish line with just eight victories in their final 23 games. In the City of Brotherly Loathe, those were alarming numbers, to be sure.
While Flyers coach Peter Laviolette has attempted to downplay his team’s stumbling bumbling play down the stretch, he must be fretting behind closed doors. And with stud defenceman Chris Pronger listed day to day while his surgically repaired right hand continues to heal, life certainly will not get any easier for the Flyers heading into Game 2 on Saturday in Philly.
In the end, Miller did win the battle of goalies as many expected. But rookie Sergei Bobrovsky deserves credit for his play, too, refusing to stumble in his first playoff game other than kicking out the juicy rebound that was drained by Kaleta.
The Flyers gameplan, as it has been for decades, was to go hard to the net, almost as if they were attempting to plunge into the endzone on fourth-and-goal.
At one point in the first period, Miller took exception when Mike Richards plowed Sabres defenceman Chris Butler right into him and responded by giving the Flyers facewash with his goalie glove.
For Miller, it’s time to get serious.
“I know they are going to try to get in my face,” Miller said. “But this is playoff time. At playoff time, every team tries to get traffic in front of the net. That’s just the way it works.
“I went into this series determined that nothing was going to bother me. I know it didn’t seem that way during the first scrum, but the guys did a great job coming to my defence.”
Not to mention the heroics of unsung Patrick Kaleta.