BUFFALO – The Flyers may have found a new No. 1 line Saturday afternoon and a way to jump-start struggling left winger James van Riemsdyk.
Because of an injury to Sean Couturier, the revamped top unit included Claude Giroux playing a full game at center for the first time in two seasons, and van Riemsdyk, who had been on the second line recently, as his left winger.
The results were impressive.
Giroux had the 10th four-point game of his career, van Riemsdyk had a goal and an assist, and the right winger on the top line, Travis Konecny, contributed a goal as the Flyers whipped reeling Buffalo, 6-2, at the KeyBank Center.
“I’d like to tell you it’s like riding a bike, but it’s not,” Giroux said about returning to center. “But it turned out great; it was a team effort.”
Trailing 2-0, the Flyers scored the game’s last six goals -- four in an 8-minute, 11-second span of the third period -- as they increased their point streak to three games (2-0-1). Giroux started their four-goal barrage by scoring on a shorthanded two-on-one to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead with 17:11 left.
The players on the top line accounted for three goals and seven points, and rookie goalie Anthony Stolarz stopped 28 of 30 shots and kept the Flyers within 2-0 with several outstanding first-period saves,
Coach Dave Hakstol informed Giroux on Friday night he would move from left wing to his natural center spot, replacing Couturier, who is day-to-day with an unspecified lower-body injury.
“I’m not going to lie. I was a little nervous," Giroux said after Saturday’s win. “You get to play center once in a while when you get to play low, but it’s been a while, and it’s pretty easy to play with T.K. and Reemer. We had good chemistry right off the bat.”
Van Riemsdyk, whose goal off a faceoff win by Giroux got the Flyers to within 2-1 in the first period, said he felt comfortable playing alongside Giroux because they were linemates in his first stint with the Flyers, which ended in 2011-12.
“G and I always had some chemistry and can play off each other pretty good,” van Riemsdyk said after scoring just his second goal in the nine games he has played since returning from a knee injury. “It was nice to see we could pick up where we left off. And the same with T.K. I felt we were on the same page right away."
Asked if he would like to stay at center when Couturier returns, Giroux said, “Whatever makes the team better.”
Hakstol wouldn’t say whether Giroux would remain in the middle. If he did, Couturier would likely be the No. 2 center and Nolan Patrick would drop to No. 3.
“Obviously, it went well tonight,” Giroux said. “But a few times I was a little lost in the 'D' zone and they had scoring chances. Luckily enough, Stolie made some big saves.”
In the game’s most pivotal sequence, the Flyers were shorthanded when Giroux intercepted a pass in the Sabres' attacking zone. He skated up ice on a two-on-one and beat backup goalie Linus Ullmark with a snipe to the upper right side, giving the Flyers a 3-2 lead and starting a third-period onslaught.
A little over five minutes later, Wayne Simmonds (10th goal) made it 4-2, putting a rebound through the legs of Ullmark, who was playing because of an injury to Carter Hutton.
Dale Weise (third goal), converting a behind-the-goal-line pass from Michael Raffl, made it 5-2 with 10:35 left, and then Giroux set up Konecny’s ninth tally to give the Flyers four goals in an 8:11 span of the third period .
Jack Eichel’s two goals -- a tracer into the left corner off the rush, and a deflection – gave Buffalo a 2-0 first-period lead. It looked similar to the teams' Nov. 20 meeting, when Buffalo built a 4-0 first-period lead en route to a 5-2 win.
"When it was 2-0, you couldn’t help but think, ‘Oh, here we go again,’ " Giroux said."But Stolie made a few good stops to give us some hope."
And Van Riemsdyk awakened, scoring on a set play with 7:08 left in the first, a one-timer from the left circle after a clean faceoff win by Giroux. The comeback was underway.
“To have James step in and play the way he did was a big boost,” Hakstol said, hoping van Riemsdyk will start resembling the player who had a career-high 36 goals for Toronto last season.