Every seven-game series is difficult. Just by their nature, they have to be.
You play the same team seven times in 2 weeks. Bodies collide. Enemies are created. Villains are born. Faces are smashed into the boards.
But this seven-game series was a little more difficult than the others Danny Briere has played. Many of the guys wearing the opposing sweaters were ex-teammates and friends. He spent four seasons in Buffalo and still has strong ties.
Briere last night, as he has all series, put those feelings aside and bedeviled his former mates. He had a goal and an assist as the Flyers finished off the Sabres, 5-2, to win their third consecutive Game 7.
The stat sheet shows that Briere lost nine of the 14 faceoffs he took. But two of the faceoffs he won led directly to goals. He said afterward that one of the keys to success in the NHL playoffs is to do the little things well. It is something he picked up from his former coach who is still behind the bench for Buffalo.
"One thing I learned from Lindy Ruff is that in the playoffs, you have to learn to play out of character," Briere said. "Little things that, a player like myself, who is not relied on to take the big, key faceoffs and not relied on to finish checks . . . Little areas like that can swing the momentum of a game. You try to give a little extra in those departments - to play a little out of character - to give your team a chance to win."
The Flyers had pounded the Sabres throughout the first period, but had nothing to show for it after their first 15 shots. Then, something curious happened.
Claude Giroux was lined up to take a draw against Paul Gaustad, Buffalo's best faceoff man. But when Giroux continually got too anxious, he was kicked out of the circle by linesman Brian Murphy. Briere stepped in and won the draw cleanly back to Braydon Coburn. Coburn fired an innocuous shot toward the net that Buffalo forward Mike Grier inadvertently deflected past Ryan Miller with 18.5 seconds left in the period.
Danny Briere is known for a lot of things. Key faceoff man isn't one of them.
"That was a huge momentum swing getting that goal," Briere said. "We had peppered Ryan Miller most of the first period. We barely let them come into our zone, and it was still 0-0 at that point. To get a little deflection was a huge relief and also a huge momentum swing."
During the celebration of the goal, Briere skated by and tapped Miller on top of the helmet. Take that, friend.
"That was a little excitement, overjoy after that goal," he said.
On the Flyers' second goal, Briere again was asked to beat Gaustad after Mike Richards was ejected from a faceoff. Briere won the draw, charged to the front of the net and put in some loose change past Miller. There was no head tap, but a wild fist pump from Briere, who now has five points and three victories in four career Game 7s.
"You win some and you lose some [faceoffs]," Gaustad said. "I work hard on them. They made some good plays, they have some good centermen. They have a great team and we fought with them the entire series. You have to give them credit for winning. It was a battle."
"I think that our experience really showed," Briere said. "It's not a secret. We've played a lot of big games in the last year. I think that had a lot to do with it."
Briere had six goals in the series, the most for a Flyers player in a series since R.J. Umberger scored eight in the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals against Montreal. Some guys just have a knack for coming up big in the playoffs. Briere, with 94 points in 93 career playoff games, is one of them.
Briere took his time going through the handshake line that followed the series. He embraced a number of his former teammates and probably felt relieved that he doesn't have to consider them enemies anymore.
As the Wells Fargo Center reveled in the victory, Briere consoled Miller, who gave up four goals and was pulled for the first time in his 47-game playoff career.
"Honestly, this was probably one of the toughest series I've had to go through," Briere said. "When you're facing a lot of friends and you're going [hard], there's no friends in the playoffs. It doesn't matter who has the puck. You're going through them [on checks]. Honestly, that was one of the toughest things to do."