It took Louie Belpedio more than 300 games in the American Hockey League and a handful in the NHL to reach a very special moment on Friday night in Buffalo.
The 27-year-old rookie defenseman scored his first NHL goal helping the Flyers secure a 5-1 win at Key Bank Center.
This game was a chance for the Flyers (5-5-1) to avenge Wednesday night’s Sabres 5-2 win at the Wells Fargo Center and they didn’t disappoint.
In addition to Belpedio’s goal, Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny connected for a 3-0 lead in a runaway first period. The Flyers lead the NHL in first-period goals with 18, four clear of the rest of the league.
With Flyers goaltender Carter Hart injured, Sam Ersson got the start and picked up his first win of the season.
He was particularly outstanding in the second period when Buffalo came out playing with purpose.
Ersson actually shut out the Sabres back in January, so there was a reference point to use as incentive.
“It’s been a tough start for me,” he said aftr the game. “You have to find ways to bounce back. I went in here knowing this is where I got my first shutout. It was something to motivate me.
“You want to play. That’s what motivates you. You want to make a difference. This ia a time for me to step up and help the team. I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Belpedio took advantage of a beneficial bounce to score his goal. The puck hopped off the stick of a Buffalo defenseman and went straight to Belpedio, who drilled a shot past goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
During the first intermission, Belpedio admitted the goal was a memorable moment.
“Very special,” he said during a televised interview. “Obviously I put in a lot of work. Took the scenic route to get it, a lot of games in the minors. It feels good to get that one.”
The Skokie, Illinois native has been playing with the Flyers because veteran defenseman Marc Staal has been injured and rookie defenseman Emil Andrae was recently returned to the Phantoms.
This was an extremely fast start for the Flyers. What was the pre-game message from the coaching staff?
“Don’t change anything,” Belpedio said. “I think we played really well the last few games (especially a one-goal loss to Carolina on Monday night). I know the results haven’t really been there. But in terms of shots and chances, I think we’ve played really well. It was only a matter of time before they started going in for us.”
Laughton scored his first goal of the season just 1:03 into the game. Filling in for the injured Sean Couturier (day-to-day with lower-body injury), Laughton finished off a tic-tac-toe play with Bobby Brink and Joel Farabee.
“It was nice to get that one,” Laughton said. “They (shots) haven’t been going in but I’ve been getting chances over the course of it. I thought we played a pretty solid game. Guys did a good job supporting each other. We’ve been working really hard, pressing forward. They haven’t been going but hopefully this gets us started.”
After the Belpedio goal, Konecny struck on a breakaway goal. He stole a puck in his own end, skated free and sent a forehand shot home from about 20 feet. That put him in a tie for the NHL lead with nine goals.
In the second period, the PHD line (Ryan Poehling, Garnet Hathaway, Nick Deslauriers) finally scored its first goal of the season at 14:35 of the second period. Poehling, who had been scratched for a couple games, returned to the lineup (due to the Couturier injury) and found Hathaway open at the left post for a pass from the right side of the crease.
Ersson was particularly sharp in the second period as the Sabres came out flying. He made a handful of rob jobs to thwart the rejuvenated Sabres in the first 10 minutes of that frame.
The Sabres finally got on the board at 2:23 of the third period when Devon Levi scored from the top of the slot. But Bobby Brink scored his third goal of the season at 11:28 off a feed from Farabee to restore the four-goal edge.
Coach John Tortorella liked the way his team bounced back from the Wednesday defeat by the Sabres.
Ersson was the key.
“Somehow he figures it out,” the coach said. “Gets himself back on track. Sometimes when you get such a big lead, he says now I have to make big saves here. I’m just happy we got going right away, got a lucky bounce (on the Belpedio goal). . .I’ve like the way we’ve played, our tempo. I like the way we’ve played offensively, quickly.”
The Flyers return to the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night to face the Los Angeles Kings on Military Appreciation Night. It’s the first back-to-back situation for the Flyers this season. . .Belpedio said he was thinking of his grandparents after he scored the goal. “I lost both of them a couple years ago,” he said. “They were probably my biggest fans. To get that for them is special. They aren’t here but I think they’re looking down on me.” . . .The Flyers called up goaltender Cal Petersen from the Phantoms and returned defenseman Victor Mete to Allentown.