Flyers coach Laviolette feels the love in Raleigh

RALEIGH, N.C. - One by one, as the camera panned down the long line of players straddling the blue line, the anticipation and cheers grew in the RBC Center.

Carolina's fans were eager to welcome their hometown Hurricanes, Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Cam Ward, who were strategically grouped together to be the last of the 42 players introduced. The NHL was hoping to save the loudest applause for the finale.

It didn't work.

Peter Laviolette stole their thunder.

Yesterday was not Laviolette's first game back in Raleigh since being fired by the Hurricanes in 2008, but the loyal Carolina fans used his appointment as co-coach in the All-Star Game to not just welcome him back but also to say thank you.

The spotlight shined on Laviolette, standing on the bench, and he received one of the loudest and most prolonged ovations of the afternoon.

"I had chills myself thinking about it," Danny Briere said. "He's done a lot here, winning the only Stanley Cup in Carolina [in 2006]. It was really cool to see that."

Laviolette, who is never one to publicly speak about himself, was appreciative of the gesture.

"It was nice to get a reception like that," Laviolette said. "They are great people here in the area that supported hockey, and they certainly supported me when I was here.

"It was a great memory shared here, for everybody."

It was a fitting cap to a busy but fun weekend for Laviolette, who was able to partake in the festivities with his wife, Kristen, and kids Peter, Jack and Elisabeth.

"We were here for 5 years with my family," Laviolette said. "We got rooted in the community, and we made a lot of good friends here. It was nice to get a reception like that."

With little actual coaching involved on the bench - more joking and laughing than anything else - Laviolette said it was the exact opposite of a pressure situation on the Flyers' bench. It was one of the rare opportunities when he could let down his guard during a game.

"There was an awful lot of talent on the ice there," Laviolette said. "These are the most talented players in the world; they just go out there to show their skill. You just let them play the game. There was not a lot of stress here, it was just for fun. It was a good show."

And Laviolette, thanks to his first-place Flyers, was one of the stars.

"To see Rod Brind'Amour and Ron Francis and Glen Wesley be introduced, there was definitely something special here," Laviolette said. "They can never take that away."

 

Briere scores twice

 

After leaving Dallas in 2007 with a new car and a shiny MVP award, Danny Briere did everything he could to not leave Raleigh empty-handed. Briere scored twice in the 11-10 Team Lidstrom win, including a game-tying goal in the third period that eventually led to the win.

He ultimately lost out to former Flyer Patrick Sharp, who won the award with a goal and two assists.

"I had to answer back after Claude [Giroux] scored in the first period," Briere said.

Briere's three sons - Cameron, Carson and Caelan - were able to join him during the game on the bench as stick boys and team assistants, making for a memorable trip.

"It was fun, it goes by quick, but it was a great weekend," Briere said. "Especially sharing this experience with my three boys, who were at the perfect age for this, it was a fun weekend."

 

Slap shots

 

The Flyers return to action tomorrow night in Tampa Bay where they will face Simon Gagne and Steven Stamkos. The Lightning are the only team in the Eastern Conference the Flyers have not beaten this year . . . Chris Pronger ranked as the third toughest defenseman to play against in an anonymous NHLPA poll of 318 players. The full results are available on our Frequent Flyers blog today.