Sabres eliminate Flyers


PHILADELPHIA – Buffalo’s playoff road struggles are over. So is Philadelphia’s season.

The Sabres dominated from the first faceoff, flexing their scoring muscle in a 7-1 win that put them in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time in five years and extended the Flyers’ Stanley Cup drought to 30 seasons.

Chris Drury scored twice and Ryan Miller had 21 saves for the Sabres, who won the best-of-seven series in six games and will play Northeast Division-rival Ottawa in the second round.

The Carolina Hurricanes eliminated Montreal just moments after the Sabres dismissed Philadelphia to completed the first round in the East. Carolina will meet New Jersey in the conference’s other semifinal.

Mike Grier, Alex Kotalik and Derek Roy all scored for Buffalo in the first period to take the life out of a raucous crowd and make Philadelphia wait 40 more miserable minutes for its inevitable elimination.

The Sabres did what no team had done in the series – win on the road. Buffalo took all three games at home and Philadelphia won Games 3 and 4, giving the Sabres an edge even if a Game 7 was forced.

Buffalo made that a moot point in a hurry. The Sabres outshot, outworked and outplayed the Flyers, who have rallied from a 3-2 deficit to win a series only once in team history.

The result should have seemed familiar to fans in both cities: The Sabres eliminated the Flyers 8-0 in Game 6 of the first round in 2001. That was the last season the Sabres reached the semis or were in the playoffs.

After losing 3-0 in Game 5 on Sunday, Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock promised that his team would be better. Hitchcock made predictions about as well as Robert Esche stopped shots.

As they did in each of the first five games, the Sabres scored first, and this time not even Peter Forsberg, the home ice or Kate Smith could save the Flyers.

Philadelphia’s attempt at clearing the puck late in the first period was blocked by Toni Lydman, leading to a scrum behind the net. Grier eventually stuck the puck in the open net for a 1-0 lead.

Then Buffalo took over in the final 21/2 minutes of the period. Kotalik scored on a wrist shot from the left circle, and Roy took advantage of Forsberg’s misplayed cross-ice pass for another goal to make it 3-0.

The Philly faithful booed the Flyers off the ice, and the club’s performance didn’t get any better from there. Jason Pominville’s slap shot made it 4-0 only 3:05 into the second. After Esche allowed Maxim Afinogenov’s goal, the Flyers goalie was pulled for Antero Niittymaki.

Esche, who allowed 22 goals and made 154 saves in the series, was actually cheered as a sign of appreciation as he skated off the ice.

With 1:03 left in the second, Branko Radivojevic finally scored for the Flyers to make it 5-1. A sign of a furious comeback? Nope. Drury scored 49 seconds later for a 6-1 lead.

When Drury scored in the third it matched the worst home loss in Flyers playoff history. They fell 7-1 to the New York Rangers in Game 2 of the 1979 quarterfinals.

Midway through the third period, the orange-clad crowd resembled a preseason game more than one that showed up hoping to help the Flyers fight off elimination. There was even the predictable and played-out “E-A-G-L-E-S!” chant.

None of Philadelphia’s four major professional teams have won a championship since the 76ers captured the NBA title in 1983. The city has only nine titles in more than 120 years. It has come close several times, only to disappoint long-suffering fans accustomed to agonizing losses and heartbreaking finishes.

Notes: The Sabres won an Eastern Conference-best 25 times on the road during the regular season. … Philadelphia had not been eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs since 2002. … Forsberg and linemates, Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne scored eight of the Flyers’ 14 goals in the series.

AP-ES-05-02-06 2145EDT