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Sabres think positive after letting chance slip

Thomas Vanek, ready to exit HSBC Arena in his suit and tie, had shed the pain of Sunday's overtime loss as quickly as he'd changed out of his Buffalo Sabres uniform.

The sting of failing to close out Philadelphia in Game Six rapidly gave way to the same excitement he had entering the building.

"It's back already," the Sabres' forward said. "It's like all year long like I've told you guys, and that's what we're telling each other, you think about what you can do better and you put it away. You come back the next day, get better, have fun again. There's an opportunity there for us."

There is indeed an opportunity in front of the Sabres. It's there solely because they didn't take care of the first one.

The Sabres led the Flyers at the end of the first and second periods Sunday, putting Buffalo just 20 minutes away from the second round.

Instead, Philly sent the game to overtime and avoided elimination, Ville Leino scoring 4:43 into the extra session for a 5-4 victory.

The Eastern Conference quarterfinal is tied, 3-3, with Game Seven set for Tuesday night in Wells Fargo Center. So, despite the loss, the Sabres are still just one victory away from winning the series.

"We've won two games in that building," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We're going in, and we're going in for a win."

They'll be doing so with a major lineup change. Center Derek Roy, the team's leading scorer until quadriceps surgery in late December, will be back in Blue and Gold. He'll replace center Tim Connolly, who was injured on a hit to the head from behind by Philadelphia captain Mike Richards.

The Sabres have responded to adversity like that for much of the season, hence their ability to quickly push down Sunday's disappointment.

"We're just going to have to go back in their rink and take another game," defenseman Tyler Myers said.

The Flyers, of course, headed home in a wonderful mood. They overcame another horrendous goaltending performance, rallied from two deficits and have a chance to prove their series superiority on home ice.

"We just believe that we can come back," said forward Danny Briere, who scored twice. "I wish we wouldn't make it so tough on ourselves at times, but when it happens we have that belief that we can turn things around. It was a close call, but once again we came through."

The Flyers, in a 3-1 hole at the first intermission, scored the final two goals in overcoming a 4-3 deficit. Scott Hartnell scored with 9:17 remaining in regulation, providing Leino with the chance to send the teams back to Philly.

The Flyers rushed up ice in overtime with the Sabres making a line change. Buffalo center Paul Gaustad hurried into the play to block Kris Versteeg's shot, but the carom landed back on Versteeg's stick. His second attempt struck Richards in front and bounced to the side of the crease.

Leino outmuscled Sabres defenseman Chris Butler for the puck, and the 18,690 fans went silent as the Flyers excitedly sprung off the bench.

"We got a little bit caught," Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. "We made a good play to get back and block the shot. I'm tracking it to make sure it doesn't get through, and it goes right to a guy. That's overtime, that's the way it goes.

"It's unfortunate we allowed them to get to overtime. They had a lot of pucks on net, but I thought we were battling hard. We had a lead in the third period, and we didn't get the job done. It's not good enough. It's an opportunity we missed."

The fans were ready to take advantage of it. They taunted the Flyers from the start, chanting, "Who's your goalie?" After another game in which they used two, it was nearly the question that accompanied them into a long summer.

Making only his second start of the season and first since Dec. 30, Michael Leighton allowed two goals on the first four shots. He let in another on the seventh. It was exactly what Buffalo needed, and everything Philadelphia didn't.

"We came out good again," Sabres left wing Tyler Ennis said. "We've got to do that the next game."

Mocking chants of "Leigh-ton, Leigh-ton" filled the building after Rob Niedermayer opened the scoring and Vanek sandwiched a Briere goal with two of his own.

The Flyers stayed alive despite their goalie. They had a 17-8 edge in shots during the first period, turned to backup netminder Brian Boucher in the second and finished with a 49-33 shot advantage.

"We knew he was going to win a few games for them just because of how good he is," Briere said of Miller, "but there's also times where if we keep peppering him the way we have, he's not going to stop them all."

James van Riemsdyk continued his stellar series, pulling the Flyers within 3-2 just 49 seconds into the second period. Briere tied the game midway through, as Sabres owner Terry Pegula began pacing in the press box.

Philly killed its momentum with back-to-back penalties. Versteeg went for slashing with 6:54 to go, and Richards was booed to the box after boarding Connolly with 6:03 to go.

The Sabres failed to score on the five-on-three, but Nathan Gerbe electrified the building with 3:51 left. Boucher was slow to react on the tipped slap shot and waved his glove in disgust after the puck hit the net, with Pegula and the fans celebrating.

The Flyers again dampened the excitement, Hartnell scoring with 9:17 left to tie the game. The Sabres insisted the excitement was back as they looked ahead to Game Seven.

"Game Seven is going to be fun to play," Gerbe said. "It's going to be all or nothing. We've got to give it everything we've got. This is why you want to play hockey. It's the funnest thing. You dream of playing in this situation your whole life, and now you have a chance to do it."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com