By Sam Bush
A healthy Mark Raffl gave the Flyers a 2-1 victory Sunday night in Buffalo that accomplished two important Philly benchmarks:
Kept the team’s points streak alive at nine games; and most importantly:
Climbed within five points of the Boston Bruins for the last playoff spott in the Eastern Conference.
Raffl scored the tiebreaking goal with 7:15 left in the third period to give the Flyers a 2-1 win against the Sabres at First Niagara Center.
Raffl’s 13th goal of the season came when he beat Sabres goalie Michal Neuvirth on a wraparound. Raffl came out from behind the net to Neuvirth’s left and tucked a shot that trickled into the net.
“I think [Michael Del Zotto] did a really good job keeping that play alive, pinching down, and [Ryan White] just got me the puck behind the net,” Raffl said. “I think their goalie didn’t really know what was going on and I just tried to jam it at the net and it went in.”
Neuvirth made 28 saves but wasn’t able to track Raffl on the goal.
“Definitely lost [my] eye on the puck,” Neuvirth said. “It was a quick play behind the net. Definitely would like that one back. I’ll take a look at the video and learn from it.”
Raffl was playing for the first time since Jan. 20; he missed seven games with pneumonia.
“The first period was rough,” Raffl said. “The guys helped me a lot, skating more for me. So that helped.”
The Flyers (24-22-10) have points in nine consecutive games (6-0-3). They are five points behind the Bruins, who hold the second Eastern Conference wild-card position for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“There’s parts I look back at the Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets games with leads in the third period, we’d like to pull them out,” Flyers coach Craig Berube said. “Overall, the hockey’s been pretty good. I think we’re getting real contributions from everybody. Goaltending’s been solid. Just all-around game is solid right now.”
The Sabres (16-37-3), last in the overall standings, lost four times during a five-game homestand.
Matt Read gave the Flyers an early 1-0 lead with his fifth goal of the season. Read deflected a shot from the blue line by forward Wayne Simmonds past Neuvirth 3:19 into the first period. Read and Simmonds each extended his point streak to four games.
“We kind of relaxed and played the game and had fun doing it,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “We’re playing a good team game right now, everybody is contributing and goaltending has been great for us. I think we just need to keep playing hard.”
Nikita Zadorov made it 1-1 with 6:03 left in the second period by scoring during a 5-on-3 power play. Zadorov’s third goal of the season came after Braydon Coburn was called for tripping and Giroux was called for high-sticking with 7:35 left.
Zadorov received a pass from Rasmus Ristolainen and took a slap shot that beat Flyers goalie Ray Emery between his legs. It was Zadorov’s seventh point in the past seven games.
“It came through his legs kind of, I didn’t get a good read on it but I’ve got to stop that,” Emery said.
Zadorov’s goal was the Sabres’ first on a 5-on-3 advantage since March 23, 2013, when Thomas Vanek opened the scoring in a 2-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens. They went 0-for-10 with the two-man advantage in 2013-14 and were 0-for-4 this season.
Emery made 21 saves and has won four times in his past six appearances.
“We thought we had to play simple and get back to kind-of-basic hockey like we played in the first,” Emery said. “We played well at the end of the second after they got that 5-on-3 goal. We had a power play going into the third. We just kind of had to take care of business, and I thought we did that.”
Coburn returned to the Flyers lineup for the first time since Jan. 12 after he missed 12 games with a broken foot.
“I thought he was OK in the first,” Berube said. “First game back is tough, he’s been out a while. I thought he had a tough time with the puck at times, but that’s first game back after a layoff. He’s been out a month or so, it’s not easy.”
Defenseman Zach Bogosian made his Sabres debut after being acquired from the Winnipeg Jets in a trade and led all players with 11 hits in 24:48 of ice time. It was the highest time on ice in a Sabres debut since Jaroslav Spacek played 22:58 against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 4, 2006.
“He’s exactly what we ordered,” Nolan said. “That’s the type of play we want to get to and maintain and have a whole group doing the same thing. We’re starting to get bits and pieces of it.”