Ryan Miller stopped all 35 shots he faced and Patrick Kaleta scored the game’s lone goal as the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 1-0 in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final matchup.
Kaleta broke a scoreless tie at 5:56 of the third period, chipping the rebound off Marc-Andre Gragnani’s point shot past a sprawling Sergei Bobrovsky.
It was only the second career playoff goal for the Buffalo native.
Miller stole the show for the Sabres, making countless timely stops, while the 22-year-old rookie Bobrovsky turned aside 25 shots for the home Flyers.
The Sabres entered the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the NHL, going 16-4-4 down the regular season stretch.
Philadelphia, the reigning Eastern Conference champions, slumped into the post-season, sporting a 3-4-3 record in their final 10 games.
Coach Peter Laviolette pulled Bobrovsky with over a minute remaining for the extra attacker, but Miller stopped Claude Giroux on the Flyers’ final attempt.
Veteran Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger missed the game and his status is uncertain for the remainder of the series. Pronger, who is recovering from surgery to repair a broken right hand, last played on March 8.
Neither team was able to gain any momentum early, but the emotions were running high, as several heated scrums took place within the first five minutes.
James van Riemsdyk nearly opened the scoring for the Flyers five minutes in, but rang a wrist shot off the goalpost following a Steve Montador turnover.
Bobrovsky was steady in the first, showing no signs of rookie jitters. He had a respectable inaugural season for Philadelphia, with a 28-13-8 record, and a 2.59 goals-against average in 54 games. But just seven of his victories came after January.
Miller, who missed several games towards the end of the season with an upper body injury, was equally sharp, showing no signs of rust.
Philadelphia had several opportune chances in the final minute with the Sabres down a man but they were unable to convert on the power play.
Van Riemsdyk had another great scoring chance midway through the second but he and Giroux could not connect on a 2-on-1 pass.
With a 30-second 5-on-3 power play, the Flyers again failed to capitalize, as Miller continued to stifle Philadelphia throughout the second.
The Flyers, who bear six players that netted 20 or more goals this season, dominated the scoring chances, but could not solve Miller.
Despite Philadelphia outshooting Buffalo 16-9 in the second, the game remained scoreless heading to the third.
Finally the scoring drought ended early in the final period with Kaleta’s crease-crashing effort that put the Sabres ahead 1-0.
As it turned out, a one-goal lead was all Miller would require to preserve the victory for Buffalo.
Philadelphia failed to capitalize on seven power plays while Buffalo went scoreless in two chances with the man advantage.
Buffalo will look to extend their lead on Saturday in Philadelphia.
Notes: Sabres forward Thomas Vanek, who scored the overtime goal when these teams last met April 8, had six points in his last two regular season games … Flyers forward Scott Hartnell enters the post-season off back-to-back two-point games … Buffalo forward Derek Roy (quad) could return if the Sabres advance to the second round … Buffalo forward Mike Grier, who missed the last seven games with a knee injury, practiced Wednesday but was listed as questionable for Game 1 … Flyers captain Mike Richards skipped Wednesday’s practice due to a cold, but played in Game 1 … This is the ninth time the Flyers and Sabres have met in the post-season, with Philadelphia leading the all-time series 5-3 … The Flyers defeated the Sabres in the 1975 Stanley Cup final in six games.