PHILADELPHIA – Danny Briere rediscovered his scoring touch and Ilya Bryzgalov continued to thwart opposing scorers.
Briere scored a pair of goals, Bryzgalov made 23 saves and the Philadelphia Flyers clinched a playoff berth with a 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.
Briere had just one goal in his last 29 games entering Saturday and that was an empty-netter. Before that, the last time Briere scored was Jan. 8 against Ottawa when he had a hat trick.
“I wasn’t playing as well earlier and I was scoring and probably the last three weeks I was playing better,” said Briere, who has 16 goals this season. “The chances were there, but I just couldn’t finish. I knew at some point it was going to turn.”
Meanwhile, Bryzgalov continued his hot play. He improved his record this month to 10-1-1 while making several excellent saves from close range.
“He made some big saves for us,” Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said. “We got a little careless at times with what we were doing out there. There weren’t a lot of quality chances, but there were some really good ones and we needed big saves and he gave them to us.
“He seems really confident, big in the net, he’s there before the shot comes and he’s set up. He’s a big guy and he’s like a wall right now. Our guys feed off that a little bit. He’s been a big part of why we’ve had a good March.”
Three of Philadelphia’s four goals came on the power play, upping the Flyers’ league-leading total to 61.
“We didn’t have a good night and they did a good job,” said Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec, who scored the Canadiens’ goal. “They shot the puck at the right time, got it through with a good screen with those first two goals and the third goal, which was big tonight, there was a (line) change.”
Briere’s second goal put the Flyers up 3-1 with 2:20 left in the second period. Jaromir Jagr took a long outlet pass from Bryzgalov at the Flyers’ blue line and flicked it on to Briere, who got one-on-one with Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj and roofed a forehand shot from in close.
“It was a great heads-up play by (Bryzgalov),” Briere said. “He saw that they were all changing. A little bit of a breakdown on their part and we were able to take advantage of that.”
Besides getting his second assist of the season, Bryzgalov was strong in goal again. His most impressive saves came in the first period when he stopped Aaron Palushaj and Frederic St-Denis on shots from right in front of the goal. He also denied Erik Cole on a breakaway with a glove save.
“It’s great,” Bryzgalov said. “We’re focused on playing the proper way, playing good hockey. We’re battling hard. Sometimes we’re lucky. It’s tough to complain.”
Briere put the Flyers ahead 2-1 with a power-play goal 7:57 into the second period after deflecting Matt Carle’s wrist shot from the point past Budaj.
Montreal had tied it 4 minutes earlier on Plekanec’s breakaway tally. Plekanec got in on Bryzgalov and scored on a pretty backhand move, just sneaking the puck past the sprawling Bryzgalov.
The Flyers had taken a 1-0 lead midway through the first period when Kimmo Timonen rocketed a slap shot from the blue line that zoomed past Budaj into the upper left corner of the goal.
Matt Read added a goal with 1:53 left in the game for the Flyers on a one-timer from just in front of the crease.
“I think the opportunities to shoot the puck were there and when we don’t take those opportunities, it’s tough to turn around and have them come back the other way,” Montreal coach Randy Cunneyworth said. “So we look at those opportunities that we kind of didn’t take advantage of.”
The loss officially eliminated the struggling Canadiens from playoff contention.
“It’s tough,” Montreal’s Ryan White said. “We’re the guys in here that are frustrated with it. Obviously, you want to make the playoffs and have a chance to win the Cup, and the worst thing about it is we don’t have a chance to win the Cup this year. So, it’s frustrating for sure.
“We’re going to have to come back with a chip on our shoulder for sure next year. It’s frustrating, we got behind at the start of the season, and it’s tough climbing an uphill battle. We just didn’t do a good enough job again.”
Notes: Flyers captain Chris Pronger received a standing ovation when he was introduced to the crowd late in the first period. Pronger is out for the season due to a concussion. He played in 13 games, with a goal and 11 assists, but has been sidelined since Nov. 19. … Flyers defenceman Andreas Lilja, who was hit in the throat with a puck last Saturday against Boston, was a scratch. Lilja missed Sunday’s game but returned to the lineup Tuesday and Thursday this week. … Philadelphia outshot Montreal 33-24.