BUFFALO - The Briere Bunch - Danny Briere and goalie Martin Biron - made their much-anticipated return to Sabreland last night at HSBC Arena.
There were a lot of boos for Danny boy every time he touched the puck.
"That's about what I expected," Briere said. "I'm just disappointed about the way we lost the game. Everything else was a fun day, a fun game, apart from the way we found to lose again."
The Sabres extended the Flyers' losing skid to five games with a 3-2, come-from-behind victory. The Flyers began play 10th in the Eastern Conference standings.
If the Flyers lose the return engagement tonight at the Wachovia Center, they will go into the Christmas break with a nasty six-game losing streak.
"I sure hope not," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "We've lost a few games now, and we all know how tight the East is. We're playing a team we're tied with now. . . . These are important games for them and important games for us."
It was bittersweet for Stevens, as he agreed to a one-year, $650,000 contract extension yesterday afternoon.
Jochen Hecht won it for Buffalo at 17:09 of the third period, tapping in a rebound. The Flyers played magnificently on the penalty kill in the game, while Biron was exceptional in goal with 32 saves.
"We've got to stop doing that," Biron said. "Up 2-0 with four minutes left against Phoenix and lose, 3-2. Up 2-1 here. We've got to start digging in deep in the third period and getting those games.
"It was a must win tonight and we had it. We let it slip away. [Tonight's] game is twice as important to us."
The Flyers were clinging to a 2-1 lead early in the third period when Ales Kotalik tied the game with a power-play slapshot from above the left circle. Moments later, Jaroslav Spacek came clear across the ice to bury Scottie Upshall in the left corner and was called for interference, instead of charging. Upshall took several hard hits in the game.
"He battled hard," Stevens said. "He won a lot of puck battles. We have to give him credit for going into those areas. A couple of those hits on Scottie looked like they crossed the line to me."
The game featured end-to-end rushes in the third period, with Sabres goalie Ryan Miller denying Briere on one of them in what was his best scoring chance.
"We battled hard, but it wasn't good enough," Stevens said. "I thought our power play [1 for 7] didn't do enough. We had opportunities on the power play, especially as the game wore on. We need to find a way to take advantage of those opportunities, to get us a lead and win the hockey game."
Biron prevented a couple of goals in the first period, despite giving up an odd one in the final 2:05 on a strange shot from Drew Stafford. It went up off him and into the net briefly before Biron knocked it back out. Under review, it was ruled a legitimate goal.
It should have been at least 2-0, because the Sabres had two golden opportunities off the stick of Paul Gaustad midway into the period. His shot from the left slot forced Biron to make an acrobatic, diving stick save across the crease, then flip-flop to save the puck again when it fell toward the goal line.
Biron was rewarded for his efforts as the Flyers scored twice in 45 seconds to open the second period. During a four-on-four, Scott Hartnell gave Jeff Carter a terrific pass through neutral ice that sprang the Flyers center into the zone, where he wristed a shot off Miller at 2:13. It was Carter's 10th goal and his first in seven games.
When the four-on-four became a Flyers power play, Joffrey Lupul's 13th goal gave the Flyers their first lead of the night. Lupul got a fortunate loose-puck rebound in the slot off a shot from Denis Tolpeko, and roofed the puck for a 2-1 lead.
The Sabres were without checking-line center Tim Connolly (stomach virus), who would have matched up on Briere, but more important is Buffalo's best penalty killer. The Flyers own the second-ranked power play in the league at 23.7 percent.
The Flyers spent much of the remaining minutes in the period shorthanded, but their penalty-killing was outstanding, denying the Sabres lanes or quality chances. During a four-on-three kill, Buffalo did not get a shot on Biron.
"It was feisty," the Flyers' Mike Richards said. "We didn't come up with enough puck battles. It's frustrating to lose these close games. . . . [Tonight] is a huge game."
Spacek cleanly laid out Briere during a Flyers power play in the second period. However, Toni Lydman's elbow to Upshall's chin should have been a five-minute major rather than a minor.
"The elbow was a little vicious," Stevens said. "We've got to be better than we were tonight. . . . We've got to be better."