My friend Mike, who I've mentioned before, is from Buffalo. He's a drinker, and a fiend. He's also brilliant, an employed Cornell graduate with a razor-like wit and a mind like a steel trap. If you ranked the city's finest sons from "zero" to "All-Star," he's Dominik Hasek. Definitely way cooler than Tim Russert.
Mike's been through his share of sports-related heartbreak: the Bills in the 90's and the Peca/Satan/Barnaby Sabres after that. And, of course, let's not forget the long, storied struggles of the minor league baseball Buffalo Bisons (no championships from 1961 to 1997). If all things were equal, I'd be rooting for one of his teams to bring home a title. Hell, the most fun I've ever had watching a non-Eagles football game was at the Bills bar in New York City; I do feel a certain kinship with their merry band of losers.
Obviously, however, that's not the case. Our cities are at war, and behind a giant stone wall dressed in a Ryan Miller jersey, Buffalo now heads back to Philadelphia with the series tied.
I said before this all started that the Flyers would win in 6, and I stand by that prediction. Besides Miller standing on his head, the Flyers have looked like the more talented team. Brian Boucher's been rock solid in goal, and I love the aggressive forecheck from guys like the rapidly maturing James van Riemsdyk.
But I won't sell Buffalo short; the Sabres are taking it to the Flyers. Patrick Kaleta, in particular, is a physical pest in the Dan Carcillo vein. Say what you will about the oft-discussed elbow from Mike Richards -- which should have been a two-minute minor, not a fiver, and I'll flip out if he's suspended -- but it was a knee-jerk reaction to Buffalo's aggressive play. It's exactly what Kaleta was hoping for; he'd probably take five elbows to the face every night if it brought home a win.
Will this level of physicality shift when Chris Pronger steps onto the ice? For that matter, will Chris Pronger step onto the ice? His presence would certainly steady the team, in particular on the power play, and he's probably dying to be in the middle of some of these post-whistle scrums at every stoppage. I personally expect to see him in Game 5 (as do several of the beat writers), but as of early Thursday morning, no one knows for sure.
I'm not upset that Ryan Miller has shut the Flyers out twice; he's a top-three NHL goalie, and a loss is a loss at this point. But I am perturbed that Jeff Carter might be out with a knee injury, and that Richards could conceivably be suspended, and that the Flyers lost two very winnable one-goal games. I'm a little nervous that a pesky team like Buffalo is still hanging around, and that the refs seem to absolutely loathe the Flyers.
It's an even series, and while the Flyers still have home-ice advantage, the margin for error has thinned. All I know is I don't want to give Mike, the lovable asshole that drinks vodka from a jar, any kind of bragging rights. I want him, my good friend, to suffer like the sad, Buffalo-bred runner-up that he is.