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Phil Sheridan: Flyers a splendid mix of young and old

Danny Briere doesn't have the luxury of his own youth anymore. At 34, he is keenly aware of that.

Danny Briere (center) has been a leader for the Flyers in this year's playoffs. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)
Danny Briere (center) has been a leader for the Flyers in this year's playoffs. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)Read more

Danny Briere doesn't have the luxury of his own youth anymore. At 34, he is keenly aware of that.

Still, if Briere is going to check the final box on his outstanding career, if he's going to etch his name on the Stanley Cup, he knows that youth will be the key. It will just have to be borrowed youth.

"It doesn't seem to matter if it's a young guy or an older guy," Briere said, describing the way James van Riemsdyk has picked up where he left off in last year's playoffs. "You look at Jake Voracek, another example of a guy who, so far in the playoffs, has been tremendous for us. Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn – young guys who are playing great hockey already in their young careers."

Van Riemsdyk was saying Monday that he learned a lot from Briere about how to deal with the pressures of postseason hockey. Claude Giroux, who is tied with Briere with a league-leading seven playoff goals, spent a season living in Briere's house. Couturier took over the room this year.

They have all benefited from Briere's leadership, from the lessons he himself learned from observing and playing with other greats.

"Growing up, I remember watching the Montreal Canadiens," Briere said. "Patrick Roy was always a great example of a goaltender who, the bigger the game was, he seemed to get better. Claude Lemieux scoring all those big goals in the playoffs – those were examples when I grew up. When I got to Buffalo, Chris Drury was another example for me of a guy . . . he always had a knack for making big plays at the right time."

With his 106 points in 104 career playoff games, Briere has made a case for himself as a great postseason performer. But he was quick to apply the brakes to that train of thought.

"I don't really see myself in quite that category," Briere said. "Those guys that I mentioned, they all have Stanley Cups. Until you win that, I don't think you can be considered in the same group."

And here's the thing. Drury won a Cup with Colorado in 2001. He played with Briere in Buffalo before signing a free-agent deal with the New York Rangers. Last year, the Rangers bought Drury out and, his knee in chronic pain, he retired.

He was 34. Same age Briere is right now.

"You just never know if you're going to have the chance to play in another playoff," Briere said. "Who knows? This could be my last playoff round. That's the way I've been approaching it. This could be my last chance. I have to make the most of it. When you're young, you think you're going to have all these games, you have all that time ahead of you to win all those Stanley Cups."

That is where Giroux and van Riemsdyk, Couturier and Schenn, Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds are now. The future is full of promise. For Briere and Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr, the future is now. And now depends on that group of young players grasping the opportunity at hand and making the most of it.

With five of the required 16 victories in hand, the signs are good.

Couturier scored a hat trick in Game 2 against Pittsburgh in the first round, but his main contribution was playing defense against Penguins star Evgeni Malkin. In Game 1 Sunday, Couturier saw plenty of ice time against Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, two of the Devils' best players.

Couturier is 19.

"It's pretty amazing that we talk about someone who's 19 years old that way," Briere said. "His line was pretty amazing again [Sunday]."

Voracek fired the pass that sprung Briere for the breakaway he turned into his first goal, a huge momentum shifter. Voracek is 22. Van Riemsdyk, who scored a goal and screened goalie Marty Brodeur on Briere's overtime winner, will turn 23 on Friday. Schenn is just 20.

They all have assumed roles with great responsibility in coach Peter Laviolette's demanding system. They all have excellent speed, which puts enormous pressure on opponents night in and night out. The Devils, pushed to seven games in the first round, wilted under that pressure by midway through the second period of Game 1.

Make no mistake. Briere is still as dangerous a scorer, especially in the postseason, as the Flyers have. At 37, Timonen is their most fluid and versatile defensemen. Hartnell, who turned 30 last month, is a vital cog in this machine.

The young guys need these veterans if they're going to win it all. But the veterans know they are only going as far as the younger legs will carry them.

From here, it looks like that might be pretty far indeed.