The Wells Fargo Center was deathly quiet. It was as if the energy had seeped through cracks in the walls and dissipated in the South Philly air.
There was a good reason for this. Two good reasons, in fact, and both were early Buffalo goals from near impossible angles that got through the leg pads of Flyers goalie Brian Boucher. With barely enough time to clear their throats, the orange-draped crowd sat stunned, and you could almost see the Flyers' shoulders sag.
This wasn't the way the Flyers had promised to start Game 5 of what has evolved into a fascinating first-round Stanley Cup playoff series, especially the day after Sabres coach Lindy Ruff had called them whiners. But nothing drains the confidence from a team as efficiently as poor goaltending.
So the Flyers were feeling their way through the dark when James van Riemsdyk switched on the lights and began a comeback from a 3-0 deficit with a goal midway through the second period.
"I thought JVR had a strong performance for us tonight," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "I thought he was strong and is really using his speed, size, and the puck seems to be sticking with him. He is getting lots of offensive opportunities."
This series has been a coming out party for the second-year winger, one long answer for those who were beginning to wonder when he'd blend the size and speed the Flyers found so beguiling they made him the second overall pick in the draft. Sure, he'll be only 22 in a couple of weeks, and this is only his second full season, but patience runs thin in the NHL.
Van Riemsdyk has probably been the Flyers' most consistent forward in this series. His skates seem turbo-charged, his GPS is homed in on the net, and he'd never displayed such a physical nature on such a consistent basis.
On the goal that ended goalie Ryan Miller's shutout streak of four and a half periods, van Riemsdyk took a carom and used his long reach to get the puck behind Miller, who'd come out to challenge him.
Suddenly, the game belonged to the Flyers, who got subsequent goals from Andrej Meszaros and Danny Briere to send the game into overtime.
Van Riemsdyk, who had a team-high eight shots and attempted a remarkable 13, tried to spare everyone the OT, but Miller refused to budge as van Riemsdyk jammed at the puck in the crease.
The Flyers also carried the play during most of the 5 minutes, 31 seconds of overtime play, and van Riemsdyk was in the middle of much of it. But Michael Leighton, who replaced Boucher in the first period to become the third goalie the Flyers have employed in the series, allowed a fat rebound, and Tyler Ennis pounced on it to give the Sabres a 4-3 win and a lead of three games to two in the best-of-seven series that returns to Buffalo Sunday for Game 6.
The last time van Riemsdyk pulled the Flyers out of such a deep funk was late in the first period of the memorable Game 7 in Boston last spring. The Flyers had rubbed out a deficit of three games to none to tie the second-round series but seemed on the cusp of getting blown out when they fell behind 3-0. Laviolette called a timeout and basically told the Flyers they'd win if they scored the next goal. Van Riemsdyk scored, and the Flyers went on to fulfill Laviolette's prophecy.