Jan 14, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Philadelphia Flyers head coach Craig Berube watches the game from behind the bench during the first period against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Escape from Buffalo: Lecavalier's Late Goal Seals Wild Flyers Win over Hapless Sabres

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Jan 14, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Philadelphia Flyers center Vincent Lecavalier (40) celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres with defenseman Braydon Coburn (5) right wing Matt Read (24) and defenseman Kimmo Timonen (44) during the third period at First Niagara Center. Flyers beat the Sabres 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off two disheartening losses against some of the better competition in the Eastern Conference, the Flyers were in desperate need of a confidence builder to get back on track. Despite the fact that they would be away from the confines of the Wells Fargo Center, the schedule was kind to the Flyers as far as their next opponent. The Buffalo Sabres, the worst team in the NHL by four points, were just the type of foe that the struggling Flyers could regain their ‘mojo’ against after back-to-back losses.

Unfortunately, for much of the contest, the Flyers played like they thought the team with the worst record in hockey was going to hand them two points. Philadelphia came out of the gates extremely flat, and showed very little in the way of urgency against an inferior opponent. Almost seven minutes into the game Cody Hodgson beat Steve Mason for the game’s first goal. Philadelphia would have to play catch up and, after squandering a pair of power play opportunities, the offense had established very little rhythm. Their best chance of the period, off the stick of Claude Giroux, was denied by Buffalo’s Jhonas Enroth in one of the spectacular saves of the NHL season.

The Flyers would emerge from the 1st period intermission with a much more concentrated effort on getting back into the contest. After drawing a penalty less than a minute into the frame, Jake Voracek would take a fantastic pass from Wayne Simmonds and fire it by Enroth for the team’s first goal to tie it at 1. They would squander the chance at sustaining their early momentum with a series of lazy penalties and inconsistent play in both the neutral and offensive zone. The teams would skate off the ice in the 2nd tied at one with neither team looking particularly impressive.

The early stages of the third period were largely uneventful. With both clubs trying to establish pressure in the opposition’s zone, early indications seemed as if one goal in the third period might be enough to take the contest. Unfortunately, it would be the Sabres breaking the tie on the heels of a fantastic individual effort by Steve Ott. Ott steamrolled a pair of Flyers players before threading the needle with a feed to Matt D’Agostini for Buffalo’s 2nd goal of the game. The goal was similar to some scored against the Flyers in their past two losses and it could have indicated a lapse of effort leading to a deflating loss.

After several missed chances and strong saves by Enroth, the Flyers finally got a bounce to go their way. Brayden Schenn would corral a puck after a fortuitous bounce off the boards and quickly spin and whip one by Enroth to even the game at two. The Flyers would continue the pressure and draw a penalty to set them up with a power play with just under five minutes to go in regulation.

Jan 14, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Philadelphia Flyers right wing Jakub Voracek (93) celebrates his goal with left wing Scott Hartnell (19) and right wing Wayne Simmonds (17) as Buffalo Sabres center Steve Ott (9) looks on during the second period at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

After taking a shot off of his ankle early in the contest, winger Scott Hartnell was clearly favoring his leg in the latter stages of the game. Fortunately for the Flyers, the assistant captain was able to tough it out and take the ice for the team’s power play. Claude Giroux would feed Simmonds on the goal line and he would find an open Hartnell in the slot. Hartnell blasted a one-timer over Enroth’s glove to give the Flyers a lead with a power play goal, his 11th on the season. Despite a less-than-stellar effort, it looked as if Philadelphia would escape with a regulation win.

Unfortunately, the team’s defensive deficiencies would bite them once more and allow the bumbling Sabres to tie the game once more. Tyler Ennis, from a sharp angle, would take a timing pass and blow it by Mason after a breakdown in the Flyers zone. The 3-3 score was as deflating as a deficit, as what looked like a sure two points seemed less of a possibility, especially with the possibility of a shootout looming.

With under a minute to go, the Flyers had hemmed the Sabres in their own zone. After multiple prime chances, one had to wonder if they would be able to break through before the final horn signaling overtime. After Sean Couturier took several cracks at the net in close, Matt Read in his first game back from a concussion collected the puck with 20 seconds left. Rather than firing into the scrum, Read found a wide-open Vincent Lecavalier in the slot. The veteran, who had not scored since late November, unleashed a vintage shot past Enroth with 14.8 seconds to go. The Flyers would play out the clock for the 4-3 win and collect the two points in regulation that they so desperately needed.

The win was by no means a masterpiece. They allowed a bad Buffalo team to play the only style that has brought them any sort of success for a good chunk of the game and had to come back on multiple occasions. That being said, a win is a win and the Flyers were the benefactors of a down night in the Metropolitan Division. With the Rangers and Capitals both losing, the Flyers moved back into 2nd place in the division behind the Penguins.

On first glance, it is hard to take much positive from a win of that caliber. However, professional athletes in any sport realize the importance of any win and even a sloppy performance resulting in a victory can build momentum. Especially with Lecavalier scoring and Read back in the lineup, one could wonder whether those key contributors can pick up some of the scoring slack to supplement Voracek, Giroux, and Simmonds. Philadelphia welcomes the Nashville Predators, another struggling club, to the Wells Fargo Center with a chance to string together another win on home ice. The Predators are another team struggling to score the puck, and could give a leaking Flyers defense a chance to regain some confidence before facing off with some of the higher scoring teams in the league. The most important result from Tuesday’s contest was a win and a chance for Lecavalier, who still has some of the scoring touch of his youth, to feel good about himself for the first time in weeks. Hopefully the team realizes how fortunate they were Tuesday and move forward with a better sense of focus and purpose as far as competing in the competitive Eastern Conference.

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