Flyers regroup; Esche gets Game 3 start

Updated: April 25, 2006, 8:26 PM ET
Associated Press

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The verbal spat between Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff calmed down. Now the Philadelphia Flyers have to find a way to cool off the Buffalo Sabres.

Back home after a humiliating 8-2 loss in Buffalo on Monday night put them in an 0-2 hole in their best-of-seven first-round series, the frustrated Flyers regained their composure and worked on slowing the Sabres. Game 3 is Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

"When you get blown out, it's how you react that determines the series," Hitchcock said Tuesday. "We have to throw out our best game. We have not played our best 60 minutes. We have no other way to play tomorrow."

It took two overtimes and 58 shots on goaltender Robert Esche for the Sabres to beat the Flyers 3-2 in Game 1. But Buffalo scored twice in the first three minutes and put the game out of reach with five goals in the first period of Game 2.

With the lopsided score, the Flyers tried sending a message by getting more physical. Though they insisted they weren't going to retaliate for Brian Campbell's hard hit that knocked rookie R.J. Umberger woozy in Game 1, a couple players tried taking their shots.

Overall, the Flyers finished with 17 penalties, including Denis Gauthier's ejection and Ben Eager's two misconducts.

After the game, an angry Ruff said the Flyers played like "idiots." Hitchcock replied by saying the Sabres coach should worry about his own team and muttered a couple expletives as he left his news conference.

"I apologize for using that word," Hitchcock said. "It shouldn't have happened."

Ruff backed off his comments.

"I've got to focus on my team and how I want them to play and that's where it's all going to lie," Ruff said. "I was emotional, he was emotional. I'm over it."

The Flyers are hoping a change of scenery will help them get back in the series. The Sabres outplayed Philadelphia in both games, but Esche's spectacular effort -- he had 55 saves -- in the opener kept it close.

"Home ice is a huge advantage in the playoffs. That's why you fight so hard to get it," Hitchcock said. "They were feeding off their fans, feeding off the energy in their building and caught us off our heels both times."

Umberger, who scored 20 goals during the regular season and was a key player down the stretch, will see a doctor in the morning and could be cleared to play Wednesday night.

But Hitchcock ruled out the rumored return of captain Keith Primeau, who hasn't played since October because of a concussion. Primeau has been practicing with the team and made the trip to Buffalo.

"He's a man trying to help our hockey club," Hitchcock said. "I admire that so much, what he's trying to do, but we have to make sure that there's long-term health here, too."

Hitchcock wouldn't comment about Primeau possibly playing in Game 4 on Friday night. Primeau met with a doctor in Philadelphia on Tuesday morning and has passed his neurological tests, but he still has concussion symptoms.

"He has to be symptom-free," head trainer Jim McCrossin said. "No matter what the player wants to do, you can't put him in harm's way."

With or without Primeau, odds are against the Flyers. Philadelphia is 5-16 when it doesn't have home-ice advantage in a seven-game series and 2-9 when it falls behind 2-0.

The Sabres are 7-1 when leading 2-0 in a best-of-seven series and 10-1 when up 2-0 in any length of series.

"It's not going to be easy," Sabres center Daniel Briere said. "In Philly, it's always a tough building to play. It's going to be probably rocking even more during the playoffs. It's a great challenge for us.

"At the same time, we have the confidence that we built from the regular season. We showed the first two games that physical stuff is not going to scare us away, so that shouldn't be an issue. But we have to be prepared because we know they're going to come out flying, going to come out hard," he said.

Esche will start for the Flyers, even though he was replaced by rookie goalie Antero Niittymaki after the first period Monday night.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press