Briere awakens sleepy Flyers

Danny Briere, of the Philadelphia Flyers, celebrates his overtime goal against the New Jersey...

Danny Briere, of the Philadelphia Flyers, celebrates his overtime goal against the New Jersey Devils with teammates Claude Giroux and Maxime Talbot in Game 1of the Eastern Conference semifinals. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images/AFP)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA - Danny Briere had just done his best Ronaldo imitation to beat Marty Brodeur when about 1,000 orange-clad Flyer fans started heading to the exits at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday afternoon.

Surely they could not actually think Briere’s obvious kicking of the puck into the back of the New Jersey Devils net was going to count?

Surely they couldn’t be that naive, could they?

Of course, maybe these fleeing spectators figured that, goal or no goal, it was only a matter of time until Danny Briere scored legally anyway, so why not beat the traffic?

In the end, maybe they had a point.

Because that’s exactly what Briere did.

Just two minutes after the officials correctly waved off the apparent winner that he directed in with his skate, Briere did it legitimately, using his stick to give the Flyers a 4-3 win at 4:36 of overtime and a 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.

And with that, the growing playoff legend that is Danny Briere added yet another chapter.

Throughout his career, Briere has racked up some respectable regular-season stats, collecting 643 points in 813 outings for a .791 points-per-game average.

Come the post-season, however, he turns into a beast, registering 106 points in 104 games for an outstanding 1.01 points-per-game average.

It was no different on this sunny Sunday afternoon in south Philadelphia, where he scored twice against future Hall of Famer Brodeur to give his team a leg up in the series.

“I think some people rise to the big occasions,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said when asked about Briere’s penchant of coming through in the playoffs. “It speaks to the player, not a game.

“I think through the history of sports, there are people who answer the bell.”

In Briere’s case, when the spring comes around and the Stanley Cup tournament gets going, he does exactly that, no matter how much pressure there seems to be on him.

“I grew up watching playoff hockey when I was a kid, and I always dreamed I would have the chance to play in those big games,” Briere said. “When I have the opportunity like I have right now, this year, like I’ve had the last few years in the playoffs, you try to make the best of it.

“It’s not really pressure. It’s a fun time, an exciting time.”

Of course, Briere wasn’t too “excited” when the officials didn’t count his initial OT winner at 2:13 of the extra period.

“(Initially) I didn’t think that I kicked it,” Briere said. “I thought I was trying to stop, and it bounced off my skate. (But) looking at the replay I think it was a little obvious they made the right call on that.

“When I was on the bench, there’s a few seconds where you’re shaking your head, saying 'they made the wrong call' and 'I can’t believe this is happening.' And then I said 'all right, you’ve got to stop pouting now, let’s get back, refocus.'”

“I was fortunate to have another break.”

Briere was anything but “fortunate” during the regular season. After registering a hat-trick against the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 7, Briere scored just once in his next 29 games -- the lone tally coming with an empty net during a March 13 game against these same Devils.

Perhaps it was an early-season concussion that knocked him off-track. Even Briere himself isn’t sure.

“It was a tough, trying time,” Briere said of his slump.

“Looking back, I remember I had a severe concussion early in my career when I was 21 years old, and it took me almost a year to bounce back from that. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but after the concussion this year I went into a lull for almost two months.

“Is it the case or not, or was I just bad? I don’t know exactly. But when the playoffs started it was kind of a chance for a new season.”

With James Van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux also scoring, Briere and the Flyers got the jump on the Devils in this series.

Then again, given Briere’s ability to elevate his game at playoff time, should we really be surprised?

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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