BOSTON - Occasionally, casual sports observers will watch a play and wonder: If they can do that once, why don't they do it all the time?
This happens a lot when watching elite soccer, when vast amounts of time pass without scoring. Suddenly, a player takes off with the ball, makes a move, and drills a perfect shot where the goaltender can't reach it. If players are capable of that, then the scores should be more like 10-9 than 1-nil. Right?
Daniel Briere's tying goal in the third period of Game 1 Saturday was a perfect example. Briere got the puck just inside the Flyers' defensive zone. He skated through center ice as two Boston defenders dropped back to guard him. A couple of Flyers trailed Briere, but no one was in his sight line.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, a player in Briere's spot would dump the puck into the Boston zone or, at most, skate it in and pull up to wait for friendlies to join him. But Briere suddenly sped up, skated between the Bruins, fired a backhand shot and then flipped his own rebound past Tuukka Rask for the goal that sent the game into overtime.
So if Briere is capable of such artistry, why doesn't he do it more often? The answer is complex and sheds light on the psychology of players rising to the occasion in big games.
And Briere does that. He has a long history of playoff success, even if he sometimes seems to get lost for stretches during the regular season.
"He certainly has a special set of skills," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's a gifted player, and those players have every opportunity to make a difference."
Briere explained his thought process as the play developed. It all began, he said, with a sense of embarrassment. He'd made a defensive mistake that led directly to the Bruins' fourth goal.
"Sometimes that's going to happen," Briere said after Sunday's practice at the TD Garden. "It's a game of mistakes. I wish I could have that one back, but it's too late now. It's a mistake. Everyone makes them. I think it's how you bounce back from a bad shift or a bad play. You try to learn from it and move on. . . . In my mind, I knew I had to get it back somehow."
A few minutes later, Briere skated behind the Boston net and fed Scott Hartnell, whose shot was blocked by Rask. Mike Richards pounced on the rebound and swatted the puck into a wide-open left side of the net.
So now, down a goal, Briere had the puck and some room to skate. Defensemen Dennis Wideman, to his left, and Matt Hunwick were backing up into their zone. Briere knew two things: He wanted to make up for that defensive lapse, and his teammates were due for a line change. That's important, because it gave him a bit of freedom from the Flyers' normal system.
If you watched any of the Washington Capitals' first-round series against Montreal, you saw Alex Ovechkin trying to make play after play single-handedly. It made him easier to defend, and it took his teammates out of the action. There's a fine line between a great individual play and plain selfishness.
"Usually you don't want to lose the puck in the neutral zone," Briere said, "but that late in the game, I knew it was a one-on-two, and my teammates were going to change [lines]. I just tried to go for it."
He planned to cut left and go wide of Wideman, but the defenseman anticipated that and moved toward the boards.
"I had a little opening in the middle of ice," Briere said. He split the two defenders. Hunwick swiped at the puck, knocking it off Briere's skate. It bounced back into his control and he fired a shot at Rask. Perhaps the most amazing piece of work was the way Briere, at full speed, was able to follow the rebound and flick a shot before Rask could regroup.
Briere said it was probably one of the better goals of his career, "but it would mean more if we'd been able to find a way to win in overtime."
It's probably not fair to expect a repeat performance, but it is fair to expect Briere to continue to produce goals. With Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne lost to injuries, Briere may be the key to the Flyers' chances to advance to the conference final. Richards, Chris Pronger and Brian Boucher play key roles, of course, but they have become givens.
Briere is capable of creating goals, and he has a history of doing just that in the playoffs.
"I really can't explain it," Briere said. "Maybe confidence. That's why I play the game, that's why I love the game. You want to be in these moments."