Briere tips in game-winner as Sabres beat Flyers

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- Daniel Briere and the young Buffalo Sabres
feel like postseason veterans now.

Briere tipped in Jochen Hecht's centering pass 7:31 into the
second overtime for a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in
Game 1 of their Eastern Conference playoff series Saturday night.

Although the Sabres did squander a 2-0 lead, giving up Simon
Gagne's tying goal in the final two minutes of regulation, it was a
strong outing for an youthful team making its first playoff
appearance in five years.

"People complain about the Sabres not being an experienced
team, but you play all the way into a second overtime against the
Flyers with their history -- it's pretty amazing," Briere said,
making only his seventh career NHL postseason appearance. "I was
surprised by the way we kept our composure."

The Sabres entered the game with a roster featuring a combined
295 playoff games or, in comparison, the same amount that
Philadelphia's Peter Forsberg and Eric Desjardins had between them.

"The inexperience in this locker room just got a lot more
experience," defenseman Brian Campbell said.

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Monday night in Buffalo.

Tim Connolly and Jay McKee also scored for the Sabres who,
including the regular season, have won six straight and eight of
their last nine. Rookie Ryan Miller stopped 30 shots in his NHL
playoff debut.

Mike Knuble had a goal and assist for Philadelphia. Despite the
loss, Robert Esche had a solid night, stopping 55 shots, delivering
on coach Ken Hitchcock's decision to give him the starting job over
Antero Niittymaki.

The Flyers did receive a scare when rookie R.J. Umberger was
knocked woozy and had to be helped off the ice in 12 minutes into
the first overtime. He was hurt when he was leveled by Buffalo
defenseman Brian Campbell at the Flyers' blue line.

Hitchcock said Umberger is fine and "good to go."

Umberger was spotted in the Flyers locker room walking around
without any trouble following the game.

With a delayed penalty being called against the Flyers in the
second OT, Hecht got to a loose puck in the left circle of the
Philadelphia zone. Circling along the left boards, he sneaked a
pass into the middle, where the wide-open Briere stuck his stick
out and directed the puck past a helpless Esche.

"I saw Jochen going around their player and my eyes got a
little big, and I was just hoping he'd see me backdoor," said
Briere, who finished with a team-record 14 shots. "I had missed
enough chances already tonight. I couldn't give 'Eschey' another

The Sabres made it difficult on themselves in a game they had
thoroughly dominated, outshooting the Flyers 29-12 through two
periods and 58-32 overall. The 58 shots broke the franchise record
of 57 set April 8, 1976, in a 3-2 overtime victory over St. Louis.

"My first thought? You can't write it," Esche said, referring
to the loss. "I'm focused on seven games. I'm focused on leaving
this one behind."

Esche's best stop came in the first overtime when he
instinctively kicked out his right pad to prevent Drury's
wraparound attempt from behind the net.

Miller wasn't as busy in the Buffalo net, but he was solid when
tested. His best save came six minutes into overtime when Forsberg,
from behind the net, set up Gagne for a one-timer from close range.

Miller had little chance on Gagne's tying goal, which came on
the power play after Toni Lydman was called for delay of game when
he backhanded the puck into the second row of the stands with
Buffalo inexplicably reverting into a defensive shell.

After cutting the Sabres lead to 2-1 16 minutes into the second
period, Knuble appeared to tie it three minutes later but the goal
was disallowed when referee Dennis LaRue correctly ruled that
Knuble batted the puck in with a high stick.

"Big sense of relief," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "In
these games the hockey gods have to be with you. You have to get a
few bounces."

Game notes
Hecht returned after missing the final seven regular-season
games with a knee injury. ... Knuble has scored in nine consecutive
games against Buffalo, including the regular season, and dating to
when he played with Boston. ... The Sabres, who ended the regular
season with two shutout victories, had their shutout streak end at
178 minutes.