Sam Donnellon: Danny the Great? Briere may make you forget Alex
For two periods last night, Danny Briere was rewriting the script to this Stanley Cup playoff series. Scratch out Alex Ovechkin. Insert Briere. You want an explosive scorer? We have your explosive scorer right here, pal.
For two periods last night, Danny Briere was rewriting the script to this Stanley Cup playoff series. Scratch out Alex Ovechkin. Insert Briere. The go-ahead goal. The back-breaking goal. Two even-strength goals by Briere's line within 33 seconds.
You want an explosive scorer? We have your explosive scorer right here, pal.
For 40 minutes, he was every bit the dominant player Ovechkin was supposed to be. He won the faceoff that set up the Flyers' first goal, which tied the game at 1-1 in the first period. He scored the goal that tied it at 2-2, then picked off a pass that led to Vinny Prospal's goal moments later. In a game between two defensive-minded teams, it might have decided the game.
These are not two defensive-minded teams. Not last night, anyway. Someone asked Flyers coach John Stevens what his team's strategy was with a 4-2 lead entering the third period in the opposition's building.
"Keep playing the same way," he said. "Keep getting pucks deep, keep getting on their 'D' "
That strategy - as evidenced by the Flyers' 5-4 loss - is fraught with risk, especially against such a skilled team as the Capitals. With the loss of even only a half-step, an effective forecheck becomes an end-to-end trade of chances and the kind of game that creates bounces and re-energizes a sobered hometown crowd.
Washington scored three goals on 12 shots in the third period. Briere was everywhere last night, and in the end, maybe that was too much. Because he was also in the penalty box twice, and the second time, it unleashed Ovechkin after the Flyers had put him in a straightjacket.
At the end of a shift that had already seen him pushed into Caps goal Cristobal Huet, Briere was called for a high stick. On the ensuing power play, a slap shot from the point left Patrick Thoresen writhing on the ice in pain, a slap shot that in essence produced a five-on-three power play that resulted in Washington's tying goal at the 6:26 mark.
Ovechkin scored the winner after picking off Lasse Kukkonen's soft pass along the boards and swooping in on Brion. It was only his second shot.
"He gets one turnover and makes a great play," marveled Washington coach Bruce Boudreau. "That's why he's going to win some awards this year ...
"It's amazing in sports how great moments follow great players. They just seem to be in the right place at the right time."
Briere finished with four shots. He scored on two of them, and impacted the game on every shift. Indeed, had Scott Hartnall converted a few passes in the crease, had Prospal found the handle on a perfect first-period feed from Briere, the Flyers might not have been lamenting the big errors and bad bounces that doomed them.
"We battled hard," Briere said. "The frustrating part is that we gave them a couple of goals they really didn't have to work for. A couple plays we wish we could have [back]. But overall, we played hard and battled hard.
"I know it's frustrating. People are going to make a point that we were up, and blah blah blah. But we can't put our heads down. We can't start pointing fingers. This has happened to us before and we stuck together as a group and grew stronger. That's what we have to do now. Stick together."
He sounded like a guy who has been there before. He has. He sounded like a guy who has seen success and heartache this time of the year. He has. In 2006, Briere had 19 points in 19 playoff games. The year before, he had seven points in 11 games. This season, his first with the Flyers, was an erratic mess.
He could take an eraser to it, though, with more games like last night's. He was 20 minutes from being that great player with the great moments, a player the Capitals should nonetheless be devising a strategy for right now. As everyone said last night, it's only one game, and it went to Ovechkin and his team. But if Briere keeps doing what he did last night, they might not be talking about Alex the Great by the time it ends.
"Things are going to happen for us if we keep playing the way we played tonight," Briere said. "We've just got to get sharper for a whole 60 minutes."