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Flyers 4, Sabres 1: Gritty effort leads to third-straight win

Sean Couturier stays red-hot with two goals as Flyers hold off Sabres before five day break.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

If the Flyers were searching for momentum to head into their bye on, they sure found some ahead of their five-day break.

Sean Couturier scored a power play goal and added an empty netter as the Flyers beat the Sabres 4-1 on Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center to win their third straight game after a disappointing loss to Pittsburgh to start the new year.

It was never easy as the Flyers, playing the second of a back-to-back, fought off the gritty Sabres for much of the third period as they protected a 2-1 lead. A pair of goals with the Buffalo net empty helped make the score bloated compared to the effort it took the Flyers to get both points.

Michal Neuvirth was solid in his first start since late November with 30 saves on 31 shots to earn the win. Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov added the other goals for the Flyers, while Ryan O’Reilly was the only Sabre to find the back of the net.

The game began with an early power play for Buffalo, as Jake Voracek went off just a minute after puck drop. The Sabres feature the 30th-ranked power play versus the 29th-ranked penalty kill of the Flyers.

The Flyers would kill off the first man-advantage without many dangerous Sabres changes, but would find themselves right back on the penalty kill with a slashing call on Wayne Simmonds. This was after taking just one lone minor penalty a day prior in the win over St. Louis.

Michal Neuvirth, making his first start since Nov. 28, absolutely robbed Sam Reinhart with a glove save on the second of the two power plays. It was a huge stop 5:04 into the game that the Flyers dearly needed after a slow start.

Jake Voracek put the Flyers on a power play not long after, but none of the array of point chances or tips would find their way past Sabres netminder Robin Lehner.

Neuvirth was busy at the other end in the first period, starting with those two quick Sabres power plays and continuing through the rest of the frame as the Flyers failed to sustain much offense.

Buffalo outshot the Flyers 12-5 in the first, but the Flyers had a couple of good scoring chances highlighted by a Sean Couturier tip in close that went just wide with 5:37 left in the period. Travis Konecny setup the Flyers’ leading goal scorer on the play and has settled into his role on the top line in recent games.

Ryan O’Reilly would open the scoring 1:50 into the second with a power play goal to make it 1-0 Buffalo. He ripped a wrist shot past Michal Neuvirth’s shoulder as the Flyers’ penalty kill finally got burned. Jack Eichel and Rasmus Ristolainen picked up assists on the goal.

The Sabres’ lead wouldn’t last long, though. Just 2:52 in fact. After turning the puck over at center ice, the Sabres watched Shayne Gostisbehere fire a wrist shot past Lehner to tie things up at 1-1. Scott Laughton and Jori Lehtera picked up assists on the goal, Gostisbehere’s ninth of the season.

O’Reilly’s opening goal seemed to wake up the Flyers, who responded quickly with the Gostisbehere goal and then followed it up with sustained pressure in the Buffalo zone.

They would soon be rewarded for said pressure as Radko Gudas drew a penalty to put the Flyers back on the power play.

Sean Couturier wouldn’t waste much time, giving the Flyers a 2-1 lead just 21 seconds into the ensuing man-advantage. The goal came at the 7:17 mark and was assisted by Jake Voracek and Claude Giroux.

Later, with Hagg and Kane off for matching minors, Buffalo took a too many men penalty to give Flyers a four-on-three for nearly a minute.

Robin Lehner would match Neuvirth’s incredible glove save earlier with one of his own on Wayne Simmonds after a great cross-ice feed from Voracek with 6:12 left in the second. Lehner’s glove work flat-out robbed Simmonds of his 15th goal of the season and the Flyers of a two-goal lead.

Protecting the one-goal lead, Neuvirth was able to turn aside Evander Kane with 1:16 left in the period, as the Sabres’ top scoring duo of Kane and Eichel hooked up looking to tie things up heading to the third period.

After a flat first period, the Flyers turned on the gas in the second, outshooting the Sabres 18-11 and tilting the ice in their favor in search of a third straight win.

There was a scary moment early in the third as a Robert Hagg blast got Sabres goalie Robin Lehner up high near the shoulder or neck area. Hagg ripped a one-timer from just a few feet outside the crease, but Lehner was able to stay in the game.

It was also the Flyers’ first shot on goal in the period through five minutes, as the neutral zone was clogged up for both teams resulting in just two shots total in that same span. Holding the lead, however, the Flyers would gladly accept an uneventful period.

Buffalo, who was off yesterday, started to push back with 13 minutes left on the clock with a couple good shifts but nothing doing against Neuvirth. At the other end, Sean Couturier just barely missed another deflection that skidded just wide on a quick Flyers counter attack.

Down the stretch the Sabres were pressing for a tying goal and gave up a couple breaks for the Flyers, but Michael Raffl hesitated on a two-on-one and turned the puck over, and a Valtteri Filppula breakaway resulted in a shot wide.

With their tanks on empty late in the second half of back-to-back games, the Flyers were content to hunker down in their own zone and wait for their chance to strike with the Sabres expected to empty their net.

The Buffalo net was empty with 1:15 left and a Sean Couturier empty net goal would push the score to 3-1 and all but put this one away. Couturier’s second empty netter in as many days was his 23rd goal of the season with Jake Voracek and Michael Raffl picking up the assists.

Not to be left out, Ivan Provorov would tack on another with the Buffalo net empty once again to close out a hard-working 4-1 win for the Flyers.