BUFFALO - Peter Laviolette whistled for his signature timeout with 14 minutes, 57 seconds remaining in the second period.
Glancing up at the scoreboard in a nearly dead First Niagara Center, with his team holding a seemingly safe three-goal lead, Laviolette wasn't trying to rest his top players to take another run at an insurance goal. It was not a teaching moment.
Laviolette wanted to stop the bleeding, only 5 minutes into the second period, sensing the fragility of his team's lead simply by noticing torn-up ice in the Flyers' end and a fresh sheet at the other end.
"Marching up and down the bench," Laviolette said, "I wasn't too happy with the way we played the game. We were just too flat."
No, last night's 3-2 victory over the Sabres was not about the three goals the Flyers scored in the first 6:23 to chase Vezina winner Ryan Miller (the third shortest start of his career), it was about how the Flyers managed to hang on to a lead despite posting only eight shots on goal during a span of 31:37.
Somehow, the Flyers managed to remain perfect (6-0-0) this season when exiting the first period with a lead.
Ilyz Bryzgalov stopped 29 of 31 shots, none bigger than the two point-blank opportunities Tomas Vanek had back-to-back in the final 20 seconds of the game, with the Sabres skating at a 6-on-4 advantage with goalie Jhonas Enroth on the bench and Andreas Nodl in the box.
"You've got to remember, they've got nothing to lose in that situation," said Jaromir Jagr, who notched an assist to maintain a five-game point streak. "They changed the game. You have to somehow finish the game, but it's not easy.
"You don't want to open it up, and you don't want to play safe."
In the second period, the Flyers didn't open it up or play safe. They were outshot, 15-5, by the Sabres, tying a season low for shot differential in a period (they also were minus-10 in the third period of the home opener against Vancouver).
"We didn't play as well," defenseman Braydon Coburn said. "We got a little too cute, I think. We stopped doing the things that made us successful in the first period."
Before that, the Flyers got off to their fastest start of the season - by scoring three goals in a span of 6:23, thanks to Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk and Scott Hartnell. Both van Riemsdyk and Hartnell sniped the twine above Miller's right shoulder, which led Sabres coach Lindy Ruff to summon Enroth off the bench.
They were the fastest three goals for the Flyers to start a game since Nov. 15, 2001, when they scored three goals in 3:40 on the way to a 5-0 shutout against Washington.
In franchise history, last night's early edge was good enough only for a tie for 16th among the fastest three goals scored. It was also the first time in those 16 games - all wins, by the way - that they failed to score a fourth goal.
"That first 5 minutes were some of the best we've played so far," Hartnell said. "We were fast, we were hitting, we were getting loose pucks."
Then, something changed. After a 15-minute rest during the intermission, the Flyers were back on their heels, hurtling toward the finish line in nail-biting fashion.
Along the way, the Sabres were the recipients of two fortuitous bounces on each of their tallies. Adam Sekera got credit for a goal that bounced off the boards to Vanek in front. And Sabres rookie phenom Luke Adam scored off Kimmo Timonen's skate.
"In the second period, we just didn't do enough," Laviolette said. "There were some tough bounces on those goals. I guess that's been the way it's gone so far. We seemed to want it more in the third [period]."
Still, the Flyers could have collapsed - especially after handing Buffalo four separate power-play advantages over the final two periods. Only a week earlier, this same Flyers team allowed Winnipeg to snatch back the lead at will in a wild, 9-8 loss.
"Bryzgalov came in and shut the door when we needed him to," Coburn said. "They definitely got some fluky goals, but we can definitely learn from a game like this. These are building-block games. It was a greasy road win."
According to general manager Paul Holmgren, Chris Pronger skated by himself yesterday at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J., for the first time since sustaining that nasty right eye injury on Oct. 24 against Toronto.
The hope is that Pronger will be cleared by a doctor tomorrow to rejoin the team in practice early next week. It remains unclear whether Pronger would be able to play next week, when the Flyers start a three-game road trip in Tampa Bay. The trip includes a team-bonding excursion in Naples, Fla., and games against the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes.
James van Riemsdyk left the ice slowly after being crunched on the boards with 6:20 to play in the third period, but finished the game . . . Danny Briere, who is nursing an upper-body injury that is thought to be a rib injury and did not make the trip, could return to the Flyers' lineup tonight against New Jersey. Matt Read, however, will likely remain out with an upper-body injury . . . Harry Zolnierczyk was a healthy scratch in favor of Andreas Nodl, Jody Shelley and Ben Holmstrom, who made his season debut . . . Buffalo's Ville Leino played a season-high 19:51 in his first game against his former team, but was quickly jettisoned off the Sabres' top line with Tomas Vanek and Jason Pominville . . . The Flyers are 0-1-0 on the end of back-to-back games this season, falling to Winnipeg, 9-8, a week ago in their first of 13 sets this season.