In a game that had more twists and turns than a Lost episode, center Mike Richards scored a career-high five points last night in the Flyers' closer-than-it-looked 6-3 win over Buffalo at the sold-out Wachovia Center.
There was a goal by Mike Knuble - off Simon Gagne's second gorgeous assist of the night - to snap a 3-3 tie with 6 minutes, 9 seconds left. It was just the Flyers' fifth power-play goal in their last 45 chances.
There was a crowd-igniting goal by Braydon Coburn that capped a relentless second-period shift - if it had occurred in the Stanley Cup playoffs, it would have been legendary - that gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead. The Flyers kept the puck in the zone for 1:12 of the five-on-five shift and produced six shots, including four on goal.
And there was Richards' sixth shorthanded goal of the season - one shy of the club record shared by Brian Propp and Mark Howe - that put the Flyers ahead, 3-2, with about six minutes left in the second period.
In addition to his two goals and three assists, Richards won 17 of 24 face-offs (71 percent) and had three hits and two blocked shots.
It was just the kind of leadership display that caused coach John Stevens and general manager Paul Holmgren to name Richards captain before the season.
"Richie was terrific tonight in all facets of the game," Stevens said.
"He's definitely a heart-and-soul kind of guy," Coburn said. "To score the kind of goals he does, those aren't easy goals. Those aren't power-play tap-ins. Most of them are grind-it-out, flying headfirst into the boards, get-your-stick-on-the-puck kind of goals. He's our leader for sure."
It was the Flyers' fifth win in their last six games, dispelling the notion that there would be a repeat of last February's swoon.
The final score was misleading because the Flyers got empty-net goals from Richards and Darroll Powe in the final 42 seconds.
Glen Metropolit's third goal in the last six games jump-started the Flyers, but Buffalo answered all night - until goalie Marty Biron's solid third period.
After a shaky second period in which the fans voiced a smattering of boos, Biron rebounded and stopped 14 third-period shots to record his third straight win. Buffalo fired 42 shots.
"We're still in February, and everybody is smelling the finish line and seeing what's at the end," Biron said, "so you definitely want to get those two points early on so you can put yourself in a better position and not do like we did last year."
With the score tied at 3-3, the ageless Knuble scored from out front after knocking in a perfect pass threaded by Gagne from behind the net. It was Knuble's 20th goal, giving the Flyers five players with at least 20 goals. It also snapped their 0-for-10 power-play drought over parts of five games.
"Simon put it on my tape and it was one of those bang-bang plays," said Knuble, 36, after reaching 20 goals for the sixth straight season. "We haven't had many [power-play] chances, but the timing couldn't have been better. We've been under the microscope as a group, but Johnny's been pretty confident with us."
"You get an opportunity late in the game like that, you want to capitalize on it," Stevens said. "And the sign of a good power play is that it can win you a game when the game is on the line."
Next week, Stevens will have a difficult decision, and he figures to break up one of his top three lines when Danny Briere returns from the injured list.
"Danny coming back is only going to make us better," Stevens said. "He has the versatility to play in a lot of different situations. No question, he'll help us no matter where he plays."