BUFFALO, N.Y. – In a city where he was once revered, Flyers centre Danny Briere is getting a big kick out of being booed in Buffalo.
“I think it’s totally normal. They’re cheering for their team,” Briere said Tuesday, referring to the welcome he’s received from Sabres fans. “And if they’re booing me, that means I’m doing something right to get under their skin.”
In other words, the louder, the better.
Four years after the Sabres former co-captain left Buffalo to sign with the Flyers as a free agent, Briere is showing he’s not lost his touch in scoring clutch playoff goals. The only difference is he’s now doing it for the Flyers, helping them win two straight to secure a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series which resumes in Buffalo on Wednesday.
After scoring the decisive goal in a 5-4 victory in Game 2 last weekend, Briere sparked a two-goal second period in the Flyers’ 4-2 victory Monday.
Briere’s performance is no surprise, and comes after a season in which he scored a career-best 34 goals.
He led the Flyers with 12 goals and 30 points in last year’s run to the Stanley Cup finals, which they lost in seven games to Chicago. And Briere played a key role in helping the Sabres make consecutive appearance in the Eastern Conference finals in 2006 and ’07.
Of Briere’s 25 career playoff goals, 12 have been game-winners.
“It’s the playoffs. My dream is still to win the Stanley Cup, and I really believe that with the team we have this year, we have a shot at it,” Briere said. “And I’m not getting any younger.”
The 33-year-old Briere and the veteran-laden Atlantic Division champion Flyers have suddenly grabbed the momentum in what’s been a hard-hitting and entertaining series that opened with Buffalo’s 1-0 victory.
The Sabres are all too aware of what Briere can do.
“Opportunistic, that’s what Danny is, and that’s what we’ve got to take away from them,” Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller said. “I’ve been trying to hold my ground. That’s what you have to do with Danny.”
Easier said than done.
In order to bounce back, the Sabres need to find a way to contain Briere and a potent offence that led the East with 259 goals. To do that, the Sabres are going to have to clean up their defensive miscues after giveaways led directly to Briere and Nikolay Zherdev scoring second-period goals Monday.
They must also find a way to solve goalie Brian Boucher, who has stopped 55-of-58 shots he’s faced since replacing rookie Sergei Bobrovsky in the first period of Game 2.
“We’ve found different ways to lose these last two games, and not by much,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “The only feeling I have right now is that we believe we’re a good enough team to come back and win this series.”
The Sabres have been resilient. After getting off to a dreadful start to their campaign, Buffalo finished going 29-11-6 to clinch seventh place on the final weekend of the regular season.
Buffalo has lost two straight for the first time since losing three in a row in February.
“It’s playoff hockey,” Miller said. “Just shake it off and move forward. There’s going to be ups and downs. And the downs sometime make you feel kind of low. You just have to regroup.”
The Flyers have finally showed signs of regaining their form following a late-season skid that cost them the top spot in the East, all the while continuing to play without defensive leader Chris Pronger, who has missed 19 games since having surgery to repair a broken right hand.
Listed as day to day, Pronger has resumed practicing, but there’s still no timetable for his return.
On the bright side, their two-game win streak is their first since Pronger’s injury. And they continue their dominance in Buffalo, improving to 6-0-2 in their past eight trips. They haven’t lost in regulation in Buffalo since Dec. 21, 2007.
This is no time for a letdown, cautioned Flyers coach Peter Laviolette.
“I think about how we felt after Game 1 and the series switched in their favour,” Laviolette said. “We were desperate to win (Game 2). And that desperation, you’ve got to watch out for.”
At least, Laviolette knows he can rely on Briere—and maybe hearing a few more boos from Sabres fans.
“I think they like Danny,” Laviolette said, referring to the reception Briere has received in Buffalo. “He’s a good guy, and he did well here in Buffalo. He’s a productive player. And you usually draw a little bit more attention because of it.”
NOTES: Sabres RW Patrick Kaleta wore a cage on his helmet to protect an undisclosed injury that forced him to miss the final two periods of Game 3. Kaleta said he’ll play Wednesday. … Flyers captain Mike Richards did not practice but was in the locker room after getting what the team called “a maintenance day.” … Sabres forwards Tyler Ennis and Mike Grier did not practice after getting rest days.