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2-goal leads wiped out two times

No need to revisit the lost Super Bowls and Stanley Cup playoff runs that fell short, but Buffalo for years has been a pessimistic if not tortured sports town. Sabres owner Terry Pegula changed the culture with his positive nature and commitment to winning. In less than two months, he restored faith and hope.

Remember, winning is not a goal. It's a belief.

Of course you believed Sunday afternoon when Rob Niedermayer wired a wrist shot into the top corner for an early lead against the Flyers, sending the 18,600 fans inside HSBC Arena and another 6,000 outside its doors into pure, unbridled jubilation. There was still plenty of game left, but the Sabres were on their way.

And you had reason to believe when the clock crept inside the final 10 minutes of regulation with the Sabres holding a 4-3 lead. You believed they were on their way to Washington to face Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals in the second round, with Derek Roy expected to return from a four-month leg injury.

Heck, after everything you witnessed this season, you should have believed.

One problem: The Flyers believed, too.

Philadelphia came back from a three-goal deficit in Game Five before losing in overtime and a pair of two-goal deficits in Game Six. The Flyers were convinced they would extend their season if they scored in the third period Sunday. Scott Hartnell delivered, and Ville Leino handed the Flyers a 5-4 win in overtime.

"We've done it before, we've been in that position before, so we had the confidence going in that we could do it again," said Flyers forward Daniel Briere, the former Sabres co-captain who scored two goals. "That's what we relied on. We still had to go out there and get it done, but believing is one of the main things.

"I'm sure [they thought] it was their time, and I'm sure they didn't want to go back to Philly," Briere said. "They played with a lot of desperation, too, when we tied it up. Both teams had some chances. We had the feeling it wasn't going to last very long in OT with the way the game was going."

The series will end in fitting fashion where it began, back in Philadelphia for a one-game playoff to advance into the second round. The first six games couldn't get much closer, with each team winning twice on the road. Philadelphia has scored one more goal than Buffalo going into Game Seven on Tuesday night.

Do you still believe?

The Sabres looked tired over the final period and discouraged in the dressing room Sunday after building another big lead and watching it slip away. Any team that doesn't finish off its opponent when it has the chance in the postseason is daring the hockey gods to work against them.

Buffalo was in perfect position to knock out Philly after scoring the first two goals, taking a 3-1 lead and moving ahead 4-3. Sometimes, all it takes is one bounce to turn a series around. Chris Butler tried chopping Leino's stick on the final goal before the forward stuffed the puck into the open side to beat Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.

Uggh.

"It's just more adversity for us that we have to deal with, but I think we'll be just fine," Sabres winger Drew Stafford said. "We'll get our heads on straight, get refocused and get ready to go for Tuesday."

In the playoffs, it almost always comes back to goaltending.

The Sabres skated into the series with less overall talent than the Flyers but a distinct advantage with Miller in net. Miller stole two games with 1-0 shutouts, was terrific in Game Five and made 44 saves Sunday. The former Olympic hero and Vezina Trophy winner gives the Sabres more reason to believe than the Flyers' three-headed mess.

Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky was pulled after giving up three goals on seven shots in Game Two. Brian Boucher won two games before a disastrous start in Game Five. Michael Leighton wasn't much better in Game Six, giving up three goals on his first seven shots. Boucher returned and stopped 24 of 25 shots Sunday.

"We're up against a team that's one of the best offenses in the East, if not the league," Miller said. "They were picked to be No. 1. They were picked to be in the Stanley Cup finals. By all intents and purposes, they're supposed to beat us. We had a game plan that we stuck to in the games that we've won. We have to play even tighter. It has to be our best game."

Bad blood between the two teams neared a boiling point before Mike Richards, who had popped off earlier in the series about the officiating, unloaded with a nasty hit from behind on Tim Connolly. There was talk after the game about Patrick Kaleta delivering verbal cheap shots at Briere and Hartnell.

No matter how it turns out, it has been a physical, emotional, terrific playoff series that deserves a seventh game to settle matters. The Sabres have been playing at a frantic pace for more than four months and more than held their own against Philly.

What's one more game with a chance to advance against the Capitals and their star-studded lineup? What's one more win?

Of course, you believe, and you should. But the Flyers do, too.

"It's pretty wild, honestly, with the up and down, the back and forth, it's a roller-coaster ride," Briere said. "A lot of people thought Buffalo was done after we got the lead and won in this building. Boom, boom, they come back, and lot of people thought we were done, especially after the first period. Now, we're back in it and playing Game Seven. This is hockey. That's what makes it so much fun."

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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