PITTSBURGH -- Even as late as Wednesday morning, Danny Briere was admitting nothing other than that he was feeling better every day. Under orders not to say anything in the days following the upper back contusion he suffered at the hands of the Penguins’ Joe Vitale with a week to go in the regular season, Briere was doing his level best to make his lips move and provide no information. He was even doing it in two languages.
Only later did Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren admit the obvious: that Briere, a point-a-game scorer in his career in the Stanley Cup playoffs, was going to be out there for Game 1 against the Penguins. This is his time, these are his moments, and Briere was not going to miss this one.
As Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said, “He’s a difference-maker. I think his career path, not only in the regular season but especially in the playoffs, he shows what an effective player he can be. The bigger the circumstances, the bigger the performance. Since I’ve been here, that’s my take on Danny.
“Give him something to thrive in and he thrives,” Laviolette said.
And then it happened.
It was Briere, the savvy veteran, and Brayden Schenn, the emerging kid, who triggered a Flyers comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the first period to a 3-3 tie in the third period. Each of them had a vital role in each step of the climb out of the hole that the Flyers managed: 3-0, 3-1, 3-2, 3-3, overtime. And if the ending is all anyone will remember -- a goal by the Flyers' Jakub Voracek with 2:23 gone in overtime -- the truth is that the series will likely be defined mostly by what led up to the ending. That is, the battle between the Penguins’ speed and the Flyers’ will.
And on Wednesday, it was Briere who defined that will.
Basket-hanging and maybe offsides, it was Briere who scored the Flyers’ first goal in the second period on a pass from Brayden Schenn. It was a crucial ice-breaker for a Flyers team that had been out-skated badly in the first period by the Penguins.
Then, in the third period, it was Briere who snaked a shot through traffic, a shot from the extreme outside of the faceoff circle, and brought the Flyers to within 3-2. The momentum had begun to shift and this was the affirmation the Flyers needed.
Minutes later, it was Briere who drew an interference penalty on Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, giving the Flyers their first power play of the game. And while on that power play, it was Schenn who scored the goal that tied the game at 3-3, redirecting a slap-pass from Scott Hartnell.
In that way, Briere (and Schenn) had a hand in every bit of the kind of comeback that has come to define this Flyers team. In the first period, the Penguins’ speed had been breath-taking. It had left everybody wondering if this was some extra playoff gear, and if the Flyers had anything to counteract it.
Now, we know.