Flyers 4, Sabres 2


PHILADELPHIA – Peter Forsberg showed why he’s considered one of the best hockey players in the world.

Embarrassed after two road losses, Forsberg scored two goals and Robert Esche made 26 saves to give the Philadelphia Flyers some home-ice tonic in a 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.

The Sabres still lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 with Game 4 on Friday night, also in Philadelphia.

The Flyers were humiliated in their six-goal loss on Monday night, and they were left looking for an edge as coaches Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff got into a verbal spat.

Leave it to Forsberg, who led Sweden to an Olympic gold medal in Turin, to get Philly going.

Forsberg put the Flyers ahead for the first time in the series midway through the second period with his first postseason goal. He gave them a 3-1 cushion with another one late in the period, and he never looked bothered by the groin injury that sidelined him for 22 games during the regular season.

Instead, Forsberg looked every bit the superstar the Flyers expected when they signed him to a two-year, $11.5 million contract last summer. The Flyers are an entirely different team when Forsberg is (relatively) healthy and on top of his All-Star game.

Esche, who was sensational in Game 1 with 55 saves and awful in Game 2, was sharp in this one. He stuffed the Sabers on the power play, leaving them scoreless on seven opportunities.

Back home after a humiliating 8-2 loss in Buffalo on Monday night put them in an 0-2 hole, the Flyers used every motivational trick in the book to pump up a frenzied, sellout crowd that hardly needed any added encouragement.

The Flyers showed the requisite “Rocky” clips, blasted AC/DC, trotted out Hall of Famer Bernie Parent and even went to the videotaped good luck charm with Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.”

All they needed was Forsberg.

Still, as an added bonus, R.J. Umberger was back in the lineup after Brian Campbell’s hard hit in open ice knocked the rookie woozy in Game 1 and forced him out of the next game.

It looked like more of the same from Buffalo early when Alex Kotalik scored only 31/2 minutes into the game. The Sabres built a 5-0 first-period lead on Monday and cruised from there.

Not this time, not with the Flyers finally showing some passion.

The game was physical early, with some hard checks and minor scuffles. Even Forsberg was overly aggressive, getting 2 minutes for charging that only fired up the Philly faithful.

With the Flyers shorthanded, Brian Savage took a short pass from the far blue line and skated the length of the ice before firing a slap shot from the left circle to make it 1-1.

Then Forsberg took over in the second period. Forsberg looked like he has trying to snap the puck in front of the net, when it seemed to bounce off Jay McKee’s skate and past Ryan Miller for a 2-1 lead. Miller had 23 saves.

With 7:23 left in the second, Forsberg knocked in a rebound shot that made it 3-1. The Flyers took 17 shots in the second period after a slow shooting start and had more goals than in either of their first two games.

Buffalo made it 3-2 early in the third when Tim Connolly scored, making for a very tense final few minutes. But Esche made the lead stand up, Simon Gagne scored an empty-net goal with 15 seconds left and the Flyers were back on track at home.

Notes: Savage scored his first goal in seven games against Buffalo. … The Flyers are 68-17-3 when Smith’s “God Bless America” is played before the game. … Denis Gauthier, tossed out of Game 2, temporarily knocked J.P Dumont out of the game late in the second with a hard stick shot to the gut. Dumont, who scored three goals in Game 2, was down for several minutes before he was helped off the ice. The public address announced implored the fans to “show some class out there and cheer when he gets up.” Predictably, the plea was booed, though Dumont received polite applause when he did leave the ice.

AP-ES-04-26-06 2148EDT