PHILADELPHIA – Danny Briere’s so-so first season in Philadelphia has turned sensational in the playoffs.
Briere has played more like the top player in the league than likely MVP Alex Ovechkin, scoring two more goals with an assist, leading the Flyers to a 6-3 victory over the Washington Captials in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference first-round series on Tuesday night.
No player has more post-season points the past three years than Briere. His four goals and two assists in the first three games of this series are a huge reason why the Flyers hold a 2-1 series lead.
Game 4 is Thursday night in Philadelphia.
Briere struggled for nearly two months in the first year of an eight-year, US$52-million contract and briefly heard some boos from the Philly fanatics. He got hot down the stretch and earned the loudest roars from a pumpkin-orange crowd that was dying to let loose in Philadelphia’s first home post-season game since 2006.
All that energy turned into a bundle of nerves in the final minutes after Brooks Laich beat Martin Biron with 4:34 left in the game to make it 4-3. The play was reviewed for several minutes to make sure the puck wasn’t played with a high stick, but the goal stood.
Their worries were soothed when Mike Richards scored on a penalty shot not even two minutes later to seal the win, and Mike Knuble added an empty-netter with 1:05 remaining.
The Flyers never let goalie Cristobal Huet or the rest of the Capitals get comfortable early in front of the raucous crowd. They finished their hits in a fast-and-furious first period that was capped by three goals in a 2:33 span – Briere scored first, and Scottie Hartnell and Sami Kapanen scored 17 seconds apart.
Biron delivered again, stopping 16 shots.
Ovechkin may be taking the MVP back to Washington, but the league’s leading scorer has yet to really get going in this series. He scored the winning goal in Game 1, but has otherwise been stymied on each of his lengthy shifts.
The Flyers even shut down Ovechkin after they lost stud defenceman Kimmo Timonen in the final minute of the second period. Laich cross-checked Timonen into the net and he was slammed on his right arm. Timonen writhed in pain, was helped off the ice and did not return. He was listed with an upper-body injury.
If the Caps thought this was the break or momenteum-shifter they need to even the score, they were out of luck. Briere, who scored twice in Game 1, scooted down the ice and scored his 17th career playoff goal with 9.8 seconds left for a 4-2 lead.
The Captials attacked Biron with high shots early in the first period and briefly rattled him when Alexander Semin’s wrist shot nailed him in the mask. Biron dropped to one knee, tossed off his mask and was visited by the trainer. He stayed in the game and didn’t appear hurt.
While the Flyers wasted a two-goal lead in the third period of a Game 1 loss, Biron answered with a shutout on Sunday.
The Captials gave him a scare when they pulled to 3-2 in the second on Mike Green’s power-play goal. He faked Hartnell and had a clear shot at Biron for the power-play goal.
A little help from Ovechkin and Washington might have had a better shot.
The fans erupted when Lauren Hart, the daughter of longtime former Flyers broadcaster Gene Hart, sang “God Bless America,” alternating lyrics with Kate Smith, who was on a video image. Smith’s rendition of the song has been a rallying anthem for the Flyers since the mid 1970s.
Briere sent the faithful into a frenzy when he scored with 3:50 left in the first. Eric Fehr quickly tied the game with his first playoff goal.
The Flyers needed only 17 seconds to go up 3-1 late in the first.
Hartnell turned a crisp circle-to-circle pass into a slapper for his first post-season goal. Briere made it happen when he tied up Tom Poti in the crease and caused a nice distraction.
Before the fans had even stopped celebrating, Jim Dowd stole the puck from Milan Jurcina and dropped it behind him to Kapanen, who scored his first playoff goal since 2004.
Notes: Biron’s wife, Ann Marie, gave birth to the couple’s third child, a daughter named Emily Marie, on Monday. … Flyers F Patrick Thoresen was on the fourth line four days after a puck to the groin sent him to the hospital and nearly cost him a testicle. … Flyers D Derian Hatcher also returned to the lineup for the first time since he broke his leg on March 15.