BUFFALO - It has been a long, miserable season for Danny Briere.
Repeated groin pulls, two abdominal operations, three rehab games in the minors, a stint of games on the fourth line, and not a sniff of a goal since Nov. 11 on Long Island.
One game can't erase all of that, or get back the 54 games he has missed. But a two-goal game against Buffalo can go a long way toward getting a big-point contributor going for the final 12 games heading into the playoffs.
"I can't look back at what happened with all the injuries," Briere said after last night's 6-4 win over the Sabres. "I can't control it and, second, I can't look back and make that time up. I've got to look forward. I've got to find my game and get back to the player I can be so I can help this team down the road and make a difference."
Briere's two second-period goals, power-play goals from Mike Richards and Simon Gagne, and even-strength goals in the third by Mike Knuble and Jeff Carter pulled out of the fire a frantic game in which the Flyers again killed an inordinate number of penalties.
In the first game since shuffling all four lines, the Flyers took a lead, then fell behind and scrambled through a crazy, six-goal second period to take a win on the road and hold the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
If not for the Flyers' penalty killing, the outcome might have been different. Buffalo was held scoreless on all seven power plays. The Flyers were called for 30 penalty minutes, including a 10-minute misconduct on Daniel Carcillo for something he apparently said.
Flyers goalie Marty Biron gave up four goals but was good overall, making 39 saves.
"It [penalties] had a big part in the game tonight, but the power play got in there, too," coach John Stevens said. "Special teams were a big part of the game. It's a big win for us, no matter which way you slice it. I didn't think either team was very good for the first 40 minutes. It was a little bit of a track meet."
Briere scored his first goal off a loose puck from a Matt Carle rebound and the second on a set play with Richards.
"They say sometimes when you are having a hard time scoring, and it has been a long time since I scored my last goal, that you may need a little bit of luck," Briere said. "You need to get a fluky one. I felt that first one was a little fluky, the way the puck came off my blade and just spun under the crossbar and went in. It seems to build a lot of confidence for afterward, for that second goal."
There was an over/under line on how long Stevens would let his new lines go before going back to the combinations he used all year.
That went out the window in the first period. Not because Stevens was being patient, but because the Flyers spent most of the period on the penalty kill.
The Buffalo power plays had the Flyers playing in pairs and Biron scrambling to make saves, which he did two times in spectacular fashion against Tim Connolly.
The tables turned for the Flyers in the final 2 minutes of the period. With a delayed call coming on Buffalo, Richards skated in alone with Maxim Afinogenov hooking him from behind.
Afinogenov got enough to pull Richards off balance, sending the Flyers' captain to center ice for a penalty shot. Richards hit the post, but on the ensuing power play he made up for it.
Taking the puck from Kimmo Timonen, Richards skated through the offensive zone, cut to the middle and put a shot on net that hit goalie Patrick Lalime's stick and deflected into the far side for a 1-0 lead.
"I was waiting to see what he was going to give me," Richards said about the penalty shot. "I haven't seen him too often. I was just trying to see what I got. Unfortunately the puck hit the crossbar, but I ended up scoring on the power play so it worked out."
Buffalo scored the next two goals and took the lead, but the Gagne goal tied it, 2-2.
But Buffalo retook the lead and then Briere made his moves. His first was a lift into the top corner on a rebound from Carle, the second - the 200th of his career - a blast from above the crease after Richards dropped a pass back to him. The pair of goals gave the Flyers the lead, but they left the period on the penalty kill, with Timonen in the box for high sticking.
The Flyers held Buffalo off then Knuble batted a Claude Giroux pass out of the air and into the net. The goal was reviewed but allowed to stand and the Flyers had a 5-3 lead.
Carter scored his 39th goal of the season with a little more than 2 minutes left to play.
Chris Butler scored with 1 second left on the clock, but it did nothing to keep the Flyers from sweeping the four-game season series over Buffalo and give them something to build on going into Pittsburgh tomorrow.
"These are all four-point games," Biron said. "We've got Buffalo [last night] then Pittsburgh, the Devils, then Florida. We're playing a lot of teams that are battling for position and to go into Pittsburgh . . . it's a big challenge.
"We've got to clean up our game a little bit because the way we played in the first period is not the way to do it." *