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Both Tylers need to stand tall; Sabres' effort dimmed by a lack of finish

Believe it or not, Tyler Myers has always been mean. Behind that aw-shucks grin, humble attitude and nice-guy demeanor is a 6-foot-8 mountain of fury. It just takes a lot of agitation for the Buffalo defenseman to show it.

The Philadelphia Flyers have finally dragged it out of him.

The first-round playoff series between the Sabres and Flyers has been equal parts skill and scrapping. It's also been equal parts Sabres and Flyers, with the teams set to break their 2-2 tie tonight in Game Five in Wells Fargo Center. Myers' skill was well-known. His scrap essentially was a secret, until Wednesday.

The 21-year-old shed his smooth skating for rough shoving. Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller laid down the ground rules for protecting the Buffalo net -- "You pull out all the stops: tackle, slash, hack, whack" -- and Myers followed them implicitly.

"I can get mean when I want to," Myers said with a chuckle Thursday. "It takes quite a bit to get me going, but with it being playoffs now, I think it's something we can use. If the opportunity comes up, I'll try and be as physical without taking penalties and be as gritty as I can."

Myers was around the crease nearly as much as Miller during the Sabres' 1-0 victory Wednesday. He was obstructing shot lanes, blocking pucks, decking Flyers and refusing to let anything into the Buffalo net.

When Philly captain Mike Richards complained the Sabres got away with murder, he was talking about Myers. The big guy clocked Richards in the head and used his bare hands to drag him along the ice out of a pile, with the final minute looking like it'd see Myers' first NHL fight.

"I don't think I should've been dropping the gloves with 30 seconds left," Myers said, "but I kind of realized it and backed off a bit."

The Sabres don't want him to back off. Myers will always be big. It's time he becomes big and mean.

"He's a really strong guy, obviously very big, and he can be pretty scary when he gets mean," Sabres forward Tyler Ennis said. "He can be a tough defender in that situation. You saw [Wednesday] night, I mean he was throwing guys around pretty good."

The playoffs are about battling for every inch, especially during this series. Miller envisions Myers using his 80 inches of height the same way Boston's Zdeno Chara uses his 81.

"He had to put in his time and get a feel for what the league is all about, and now he feels he has an opportunity to use his strength," Miller said. "Guys should feel the same way they feel about Chara and some of those big D with a lot of strength. Mysie's still growing, and he's really, really strong. He's got the leverage on a lot of guys, so they should definitely start thinking of him the same way.

"Hopefully, the next few years he continues to feel that out and add that intimidation side to his game."

While Myers is taking on his share of the toughness, the Sabres still need someone to take care of the offense. Their two wins came via 1-0 shutouts, and they can't expect Miller to blank one of the league's more potent offenses every night.

The offensive woes are obviously a team-wide dilemma. Thomas Vanek's two goals came on the power play during Game Two's 5-4 loss, and no one else has more than one goal. Tim Connolly, Ennis and Brad Boyes don't have any.

The Sabres generated enough opportunities in Game Four. Boyes, Myers and Paul Gaustad plunked posts. Patrick Kaleta crashed into the net on an odd-man rush. Ennis had two third-period chances, including a breakaway.

"It's tough when you don't finish," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Even the breakaway opportunity, if it's an inch higher it's a great play, and it probably finishes off the Flyers. But we don't want to be talking about missed opportunities."

Ennis, who was nearly invisible in the opening two games, figures he's due to make an impact. His shots have to start going in.

"They've got to," Ennis said. "I'm getting a lot of good chances. I think in the first couple games I wasn't really creating as much, but the last couple I've been skating better and getting to the net more. At least the chances are coming. I've just got to stick with it and know that they're going in."

The Sabres are still waiting for Connolly to start creating. He had a glorious opportunity in front Wednesday during Buffalo's five-minute power play in the third period, but he declined to shoot and ended up turning over the puck.

His playoff scoring drought is at 27 games.

"He's got to be better," Ruff said. "His defensive game is fine. Some of his decisions have to be quicker. His passes have to be on the tape. All the little things."

The Sabres will need more because Broad Street is expected to be Ludicrous Avenue. Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger could return from a broken hand, which would help ease the absence of leading scorer Jeff Carter. He hurt his knee Wednesday during a collision with Myers.

The latest collision between the teams will determine which club is one victory away from the second round.

"The battle level on both teams is going to rise for Game Five," Myers said. "The atmosphere in Philly is going to be as crazy as it has been. We're expecting a huge battle for a win. We're going to have to be at our best if we want to win this series."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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