His ice time reduced to 15:33 in a 5-2 Game 1 loss to the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference final on Thursday night, some people wonder whether the Buffalo Sabres star centre is hiding an injury.
“Good,” he said when asked about his health, although he added the kicker that if he was hurt, he wouldn’t tell the media.
Television cameras caught him flexing his hand on the bench but this being the playoffs, one never knows the truth until it’s over. He did say he didn’t sleep very well Thursday night.
“Last night was one of those games where I barely touched the puck,” Briere said. “. . . I’m not happy with my game but have to move on.”
He did his best to hide his disappointment in not playing a whole lot in Game 1.
“That’s not for me to decide,” said Briere, who understood that head coach Lindy Ruff was trying to match Chris Drury’s line with Jason Spezza’s line.
“So sometimes it’s tough as a coach to get everybody happy,” Briere added. “I’m not going to complain about it . . . I’m 100 per cent behind (Ruff).”
Ruff’s explanation Friday was that Briere’s linemate Tim Connolly, who missed most of the season with a serious concussion, is trying to take shorter shifts, which in turn usually brings the rest of the line back to the bench as well.
Because Ruff knows his team has a better chance of winning with Briere playing closer to 20 minutes instead of 15, the Sabres coach shuffled his lines again in practice Friday and reunited Briere with Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville.
“The thinking of putting that line back together again is to get Danny’s ice time up,” Ruff said.
The Sabres, meanwhile, hope Ottawa’s bizarre Game 2 history comes in handy Saturday night as they attempt to get back into the series. The Senators have never held a 2-0 series lead in their history, sporting an 0-8 record in Game 2 after winning the opening game.
“I’ve learned so much about history since I’ve come to Ottawa, it’s incredible,” Senators head coach Bryan Murray said sarcastically Friday.
To a man the players in the Ottawa dressing room roll their eyes when reminded of the strange statistic. Their only two losses in these playoffs have come in Game 2 against Pittsburgh in the first round and Game 2 to New Jersey in the second round.
“I think everybody in this dressing room is tired of hearing about the previous records from the past playoff experiences that this organization has had,” forward Mike Comrie said. “We’re honestly excited about this opportunity.”
Captain Daniel Alfredsson has been there for all eight Game 2 losses over the years, and shakes his head at the streak.
“We’d definitely like to end it tomorrow,” he said. “But looking around the playoffs this year, most teams that lost the first game won the second game. For some reason it seems like that team is a little bit more desperate.”
The Sabres have some historical baggage as well, an astounding 1-13 all-time in best-of-seven series after dropping Game 1.
“The sky hasn’t fallen on us yet,” said Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. “It wouldn’t be us if we didn’t do it the hard way. We do a fairly good job of recovering, we get a lot of practice at it.”
Pushed into a corner, the Sabres feel they’ve responded every time to adversity this season, and a President’s Trophy for the NHL’s best record certainly backs up the theory.
“Every time this year we’ve had challenges we’ve almost always risen up to them,” said Pominville. “This is probably the biggest one of the year.”
For whatever reason, the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seeds have yet to consistently play that ‘A’ game that has won them so many games this season, sleep-walking past the New York Islanders in the first round and barely escaping a threat from the New York Rangers in the second round.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Briere said. “You’re always hoping it’s the last time you’re going to talk about it. But it’s popping up again. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to explain it.”