BUFFALO - After decades of surviving with considerably less, the Philadelphia Flyers know better than to expect spectacular from whatever warmed over body they put in their net.
So for now steady, slightly aging Brian Boucher will have to do as the Flyers do their best to live up to their No. 2 seed in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final against the No. 7 Sabres.
The 34-year-old Boucher was a rock if not a rock star in Monday’s 4-2 win at the HSBC Arena, a message sent as loud inside the Flyers room as outside.
Boucher made 35 saves for the win, including a handful on a crucial yet fruitless five-on-three Sabres power play for a minute and 15 seconds midway through the third period.
And in giving his team a 2-1 series lead with a hard-fought road win, the Chris Pronger-less Flyers have one less worry in their own end as the physical feisty matchup grinds forward.
“He made some big saves the harder (the Sabres) seemed to play,” Flyers defenceman Sean O’Donnell said. “He just seems to have that calming effect for us.”
Of course, coming into the series it was expected that Sabres goalie Ryan Miller would have a similar effect on his team, but the opposite seemed to happen after sloppy play in front of him led directly to a couple of Flyers goals in the second period. Not that, he could be blamed for Monday’s loss, but Miller has now given up eight goals in his past two games.
Combined with some missed opportunities from Sabres forwards, by the third period, much of the energy that fired up the building early had escaped into the cold April night.
In opting for Boucher over struggling rookie Sergei Bobvrovsky, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette went with what he felt was his safest option to go with the guy who was a first-round Flyers pick way back in 1995.
Bobrovsky was badly rattled before getting the hook in the first period and Michael Leighton, who led the run to the Stanley Cup final last season, hasn’t had as much playing time.
So it in with Boucher - who was told of the decision on Sunday but sworn to secrecy until his coach made it official the following day. A 15-save in the first was particularly huge in front of the noisy Sabres faithful, especially since the Flyers only got six the other way.
“I’ve played in the playoffs before and I had a good season,” Boucher said of not being rattled by the latest opportunity in his lengthy NHL career. “I know there might be questions from the outside, but I have a belief in myself.
“This is year 11 for me and my whole career feels like it’s been a lot of adversity.”
When dissected through Tuesday’s off day, it will be a frustrating loss for Sabres coach Lindy Ruff as his team failed to capitalize on the emotion of a home game by being unable to get much traffic in front of Boucher.
The Sabres, controlled the play for vast periods of time, including the final 11 minutes of the first period in which the Flyers didn’t even manage a shot on net.
But with Jeff Carter finally checking into this series with his first point - a goal at 4:42 of the first - it seemed like the Sabres were playing catchup the rest of the night. Drew Stafford tied it in the first, but second-period goals by Danny Briere and Nikolay Zherdev kept the Flyers in command, if not control.
As part of their torrid run since new owner Terry Pegula took over in February, the Sabres hadn’t lost back-to-back games until Monday, a significant piece of motivation Ruff will no doubt use to his advantage heading into Wednesday’s Game 4 here.
“These guys have battled hard for me all year long and they will continue to battle,” Ruff said. “It was by far our best game when you look at creating opportunities.
“The problem is when you are chasing a lead, all night you give up opportunities (at the other end.)”