Danny Briere scored two goals, including the game-winner 4:36 into overtime, to boost the Flyers past the visiting Devils, 4-3, in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk also scored for the Flyers.
By this point, nobody should be surprised by Danny Briere’s playoff production. As Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette said Sunday, in the course of the history of sports, “there are people who answer the bell.”
When the bell sounded for the second round to begin, Briere was ready. He scored in the second period to erase a one-goal deficit then provided the game-winner 4:36 into overtime to boost the Flyers to a 4-3 triumph over the visiting New Jersey Devils in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
If this script sounds familiar, it’s because Briere pulled off a similar feat at the start of the Flyers’ first round series against Pittsburgh. Instead of the 1-0 deficit Briere erased Sunday, he erased a 2-0 deficit in Game 1 against the Penguins, helping the Flyers rally for a 4-3 overtime triumph.
After scoring just 16 goals during the regular season, Briere has seven goals in seven playoff games this season. For his career, Briere has 106 points (49 goals, 57 assists) in 104 playoff games.
“Is it pressure?” Briere asked. “It’s fun. I grew up watching playoff hockey as a kid. I always dreamed I’d have a chance to play in those big games.”
Briere actually caused two celebrations at Wells Fargo Center during Sunday’s overtime. The first celebration turned out to be premature, though, because the replay officials in Toronto ruled (correctly) that Briere had kicked the puck past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. The goal call was reversed.
But it didn’t take long for Briere to strike again. He took a pass near the blue line from Jakub Voracek and blasted a shot through James van Riemsdyk’s screen and into the net. This time it counted.
Voracek and Briere also hooked up on Mr. Playoffs’ first goal, which occurred 8:07 into the second period. Voracek hit Briere in on a breakaway with a long pass reminiscent of the long pass Brayden Schenn sent to Briere in Game 1 against the Penguins. Unlike the goal against the Penguins, there weren’t any questions about whether Briere was offside. He got behind defenseman Peter Harrold and flipped the puck past Brodeur.
Just 37 seconds later, the Flyers took advantage of a mistake by Brodeur. Voracek pressured him as he handled a puck behind the net, something the Flyers did throughout the final two periods. Brodeur didn’t get all he wanted on his attempted pass. Rookie defenseman Erik Gustafsson alertly jumped up on the play and fired a shot toward the net. Brodeur made a fantastic scrambling save, but van Riemsdyk pounced on the rebound and put the Flyers ahead, 2-1.
Like Briere, van Riemsdyk struggled through a sub-par regular season. He scored just 11 goals and had 13 assists in 43 games. His games were limited due to a series of injuries, including a broken bone in his foot that caused him to miss the end of the season and most of the Penguins series.
His timing seemed off against the Penguins, but van Riemsdyk flashed the same form Sunday that he did during last year’s postseason, when he was the Flyers’ best forward, scoring seven goals in 11 games. In addition to his goal, he had several other good scoring opportunities, including a third-period breakaway on which he was stoned by Brodeur.
It was remarkable that the Flyers were ahead after van Riemsdyk’s goal. After a week off between series, the Flyers were rusty. At one point during the first period, the Devils had an 11-0 advantage in shots on goal. But New Jersey only produced 11 more shots on goal during the remainder of regulation.
The Flyers were outshot during the first period, 15-6, but only trailed by one goal because Ilya Bryzgalov was terrific in net. He wasn’t so good out of the net, where puck-handling became an adventure, but he kept the puck out of the net, with the exception of Zach Parise’s goal off Matt Read’s turnover behind the net 3:16 into the game.
“We were really rusty in the first period,” Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen said, “but we played pretty well the rest of the way.”
The Devils’ next goal was a power-play goal by Travis Zajac, a little more than five minutes after van Riemsdyk’s goal, on a play where Bryzgalov left the net to try to stop a dump-in, and was late getting square in the net for Zajac’s deflection of Parise’s pass from the left-wing boards.
The Flyers regained the lead with a power-play goal of their own. Rookie Eric Wellwood drew his second penalty of the game, a hooking call on Andy Greene, then Timonen slid a soft pass to Claude Giroux in the left face-off circle, who was already in a full slapshot windup. Giroux blasted a one-timer, high on the short side past Brodeur for his seventh goal of the playoffs to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead.
The Devils didn’t cave in, though. Petr Sykora slipped a soft goal through Bryzgalov’s pads 11:22 into the third period after a nice fake got Bryzgalov to commit early. The rush up-ice was created when Scott Hartnell sent an ill-advised pass to Voracek in tight quarters at the point, and Voracek’s quick attempt to move the puck back down low went right to David Clarkson, who quickly sent a lead pass to Sykora flying up-ice.
There were some nervous moments during the final eight minutes of regulation and the overtime. But the Flyers had reason to be confident. They had No. 48, Mr. Playoffs, on their side.
Once again, Briere came up with a huge playoff goal. At this point, nobody should have been surprised.