PHILADELPHIA - It wouldn’t have been quite as crushing to the city’s psyche as Wide Right or The Music City Miracle.
But had the Sabres lost Game 5 of this best-of-seven first-round series after building up a 3-0 lead on the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night, it certainly would have ranked as one of the top-10 lowest moments in Buffalo sports history.
Fortunately for the Sabres, Tyler Ennis would not let that happen.
Ennis saved the day for Lindy Ruff’s crew, draining a juicy rebound off the pads of Michael Leighton at 5:31 of overtime for his second goal of the game to give the Sabres a dramatic 4-3 victory over the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center.
The win gave the Sabres a 3-2 lead in the series. More importantly, they have a chance to finish off the Flyers with a victory in Game 6 on Sunday afternoon in Buffalo.
Ennis hadn’t even celebrated his second birthday yet when Bills kicker Scott Norwood missed his last second field goal attempt in Super Bowl XXV in 1991. And he was just 10 when the Tennessee Titans’ Kevin Dyson gutted the Bills on the last play of a playoff game by taking a lateral off a kickoff and returning it all the way for the game-winning touchdown.
More importantly, like many of the young Sabres, he probably doesn’t care about any of those things. Instead, he and his youthful teammate are trying to write their own history.
They got off to a good start on Friday night.
Asked what was going through his mind in the confines of the Sabres dressing room heading into overtime after his squad had coughed up a three-goal advantage, Ennis replied: “I really wanted to score the winner. I really did. I was excited.
“It’s fun to play here. It’s pretty crazy. So anytime you can silence the crowd here, it’s pretty special.”
The past week has seen some incredible comebacks in these 2011 NHL playoffs.
On Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks overcame a 4-0 deficit to defeat the Los Angeles Kings 6-5 in overtime. One night later, the Washington Capitals wiped out a 3-0 New York Rangers lead with three third-period goals before winning it in overtime.
On Friday night, with the Philly fans going bonkers, the Flyers looked to do the same, getting goals from James Van Riemsdyk, Andrej Meszaros and Danny Briere in the final 40 minutes to erase an early three-goal Buffalo advantage.
But Ennis was not about to let the good citizens of Buffalo suffer through yet another collapse.
“I don’t really know why all these leads are being lost in all these series,” Ruff said. “I just think teams are playing with desperation. If you try to play safe, the opposition can smell blood and starts coming at you hard.
“If there was one guy who deserved to score, it was Ennis. The way he and the young guys played was enough to put a smile on a coach’s face.
“He was tremendous.”
The same could not be said for Flyers starting goalie Brian Boucher, who was awful. Both Ennis and Thomas Vanek banked bad-angle shots in off Boucher before the game was even four minutes old. And when Marc-Andre Gragnani’s shot from the high slot somehow slipped through Boucher later in the first, he was yanked in favour of Leighton.
Yes, that’s the same Leighton who helped the Flyers march all the way to the Stanley Cup final a year ago.
Like in so many years past, the Flyers goaltending situation is a mess. Sergei Bobrovsky got the hook in Game 2. The same happened to Boucher on Friday night.
So, who starts in Game 6?
“I’m going to sleep on it,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Then, tomorrow, I’m not going to tell you.”
For the Flyers, whose season will come to a disappointing end with one more loss, there is no tomorrow.