Sabres write own script in Game 5 win
PHILADELPHIA -- In this spring of the storybook comeback, the Buffalo Sabres managed to find a way to stick to their own script, not just for Friday's Game 5, but perhaps also their own Stanley Cup tale.
Having watched Los Angeles, the New York Rangers and Montreal all give up big leads and lose this week, the Sabres appeared destined to follow that same Hollywood path after blowing a 3-0 first-period lead against the surging Philadelphia Flyers.
But 21-year-old Tyler Ennis, who opened the scoring less than three minutes into the game, derailed the Flyers' comeback at 5:31 of the first overtime period by converting the rebound of a Mike Weber point shot to give the Sabres a 4-3 victory and a 3-2 lead in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
"I think everyone was really excited. I know I was," Ennis said after his big moment. "I know I just really wanted to score the winner. I wanted to be that guy to score it. ... Maybe the veteran guys were a little more calm and the younger guys were maybe a little more excited, but just fun for sure."
It has become almost commonplace for teams to surge from behind and seize victory from defeat. The arc of these games is as easy to follow as they are improbable to watch. Teams holding a lead but unable to stem the tide, unable to reverse what appears to be inevitable once the comeback snowball starts rolling down the hill.
And how many among the sold-out Wells Fargo Center faithful did not believe this one, too, would go that way when Danny Briere, the former Sabre, tied the score at 3 just 3:36 into the third period?
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette believed it would be so.
"I have a lot of confidence, I mean a tremendous amount of confidence, in the group in that room," Laviolette said. "At no point did I think we were going to lose the game tonight, yet we did."
And yet, in the Sabres' dressing room before overtime, netminder Ryan Miller said, there was no sense of the inevitable, or at least that inevitability.
"I think we did a good job of settling down, and what we talked about was just how much fun is it going to be to win and who wants to go out and do it," said Miller, who stopped 36 of 39 shots. "It wasn't a long conversation. There is some nervous energy there. The main consensus in the room was, 'Let's just go out; let's try for it.'"
This spring, the Sabres are wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Winning is not a goal, it's a belief" written on the back with a strip of 16s (the number of victories needed to win the Stanley Cup) running down the sleeves.
And maybe there is something to that.
The Sabres lost Jason Pominville to what appears to be a serious leg injury from a skate cut in the first period. He was seen leaving the arena on crutches, wearing a walking cast.
Defenseman Jordan Leopold missed time in the second period and then took a hooking penalty with less than three minutes to go in regulation.
The Sabres were outshot 15-5 in the second period when the Flyers cut the Sabres' 3-0 lead to 3-2.
Throw in the fact that Buffalo wasn't able to close out Boston in last season's playoffs even though it had an early series lead, and who could blame the youthful Sabres if they suffered from at least some niggling self-doubt, some sense that recent history would become their history, too.
"I have watched a lot of games, and there have been a lot of leads that have been lost," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "You can go through a long list of games that even a two-goal lead is vanished. I think it is the desperation and the emotion that goes with it. All of a sudden, you are up by a couple and you have that tendency to play a little bit safer. I think if you are safe, then you are on the road to being dead in this league because the other team gets you on your heels.
"I thought [the Flyers] did a good job of that when they sensed a little bit of oil leaking out of our car in the second period."
But somehow the Sabres found a way to keep the Flyers' power play at bay -- they killed all five penalties Friday night and have limited the Flyers to two power-play goals on 26 opportunities in the series. Then, the Sabres took advantage of a good forecheck that led to the winner.
"It was a good win for us, and we will enjoy it for the next five or 10 minutes and we know they are going to be desperate," Sabres forward Thomas Vanek said of the Flyers. "They are a good road team. They are going to throw everything at us, so our desperation has to match it and be even greater."
Whether this game, those moments of weathering the storm, become part of a larger story will be known only when and if the Sabres close out the Flyers. But if they do, they will remember the night they didn't follow the Hollywood script in Game 5 of the first round.
"It's something that's going to happen in playoffs. It's two months of hockey if you do it right," Miller said. "A lot of situations are going to come up. I'm proud of the way we handled it."
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.