No love from Philly

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

BUFFALO -- You can bet the Buffalo Sabres couldn't get out of Philadelphia fast enough.

The City of Brotherly Loathing was not kind to Lindy Ruff's team and Buffalo's legion of long-suffering sports fans.

Losses of 4-2 and 5-4 to the Flyers in Philly suddenly leaves the Sabres tied at 2-2 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final, a matchup that appeared to be headed for a sweep after Buffalo victories in the first two games.

In the process, the Sabres were razzed by the Flyers and their ruthless supporters.

In Game 3, they exhibited absolutely no mercy in booing the Sabres' J.P. Dumont, who was lying on the ice in a crumpled heap after absorbing the stick blade of Flyers defenceman Denis Gauthier in the gut.

In Game 4, it was the city of Buffalo that was mocked by the Philadelphia organization during a pre-game video clip on the centre ice scoreboard.

Pounding on the already wounded psyche of the Buffalo sporting community, the Flyers ran a replay of Scott Norwood's missed field goal in Super Bowl XXV that left the Bills on the short end of a 20-19 score to the New York Giants.

At the end of the display, the word "CHOKERS" appeared on the video screen.

Whether that was a direct inference to the Sabres' sudden struggles is not yet clear. This is a young, fast Buffalo team that has shown a lot of resiliency and never quits.

At the same time, there were a number of disturbing tendencies in Philly that Ruff must get straightened out when his team steps on to the HSBC Arena ice this afternoon for Game 5.

The Sabres had five breakaways and a penalty shot against Flyers goalie Robert Esche Friday, yet scored on just one of those opportunities.

At least the Sabres were getting chances. It's something Ruff and his team can hang their collective hats on.

Of more concern should be the inability of goaltender Ryan Miller to make the big save at the key time.

With Game 4 deadlocked at 3-3 midway through the third, the Flyers' R.J. Umberger unleashed a stoppable shot from the right faceoff circle that squirted through between the arm and the body of the Sabres rookie goalie.

"One goal is not going to define the series," Miller said. "I'm not going to let it."

Despite his protests, the puck is now in Miller's court.

It is too early to go to the bullpen and give the call to backup Martin Biron. Miller deserves another shot based on his final regular-season play alone.

Miller and his teammates will be buoyed by the return of defenceman Teppo Numminen, who is taking medication for his heart ailment. Jochen Hecht, meanwhile, will be a game-time decision with an upper body injury.

But the onus still rests on Miller. Lose today, and the Sabres will face a difficult must-win situation in Philly, no matter which goalie they start.


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