In late February, enigmatic winger Nik Zherdev cleared waivers and his short Flyers career seemed over.
But instead of sulking, Zherdev improved his work habits and the Flyers decided not to send him to the minors. That gave him another NHL opportunity.
None bigger than Monday night.
Zherdev, playing because of an injury to Andreas Nodl, scored what proved to be the deciding goal as the Flyers outlasted the Buffalo Sabres, 4-2, before a roaring sellout crowd at the HSBC Arena.
Brian Boucher, making his first start in the series, made 35 saves to help the Flyers take a two-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals – and regain the home-ice advantage in this physical, no-love-lost series.
Kimmo Timonen, who contributed mightily to a key five-on-three penalty kill in the third period, iced the win with an empty-net goal with 17.8 seconds left.
Zherdev has had a different outlook since no one claimed him off waivers.
“Since that time, what’s been most impressive to me is his attitude,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “He’s worked really hard, and he’s committed just like everybody else. He got an opportunity tonight and scored a big goal for us.
“There’s always two different roads you can go down at that point,” Laviolette said, referring to the waiver situation. “You can go south and maybe never get a player back, or you can do what you have to do, and he’s worked really hard with the coaches and very hard with [trainer] Jimmy McCrossin to keep himself in shape.”