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Biron, Flyers off to great start as netminder finally get his chance to be No. 1

He knew that would never happen with the Sabres after watching Ryan Miller grab the starting job. A trade deadline deal to Philadelphia last February gave Biron the shot he was looking for.

But the last-place Flyers? Despite a 30th-place showing last season, Biron saw enough to believe things would turn around quickly so he decided to forgo his potential unrestricted free agency and signed a US$7-million, two-year extension.

He was taking a chance on them as much as the Flyers were taking a chance on him as their No. 1 goalie.

"They hinted that this organization wasn't going to sit back and just wait to rebuild," Biron said Monday on an NHL media conference call. "They had positioned themselves to be in a position to go to the free-agent market and also make some trades and they knew exactly what they were looking for."

It's only three weeks into the season, but the 30-year-old Biron is looking like a genius for the choices he made. The Flyers are off to a great start at 6-1-0 and Biron has so far quieted the critics who didn't believe he had the goods to be a real No. 1 goalie.

He was named the NHL's first star of the week Monday after going 3-0-0 with a 0.66 goals-against average, .982 save percentage and two shutouts.

On the year he's played in every Flyers game and sports a 1.57 GAA and .952 save percentage. More important to him, all the moves by GM Paul Holmgren have transformed the Flyers into a winner early this season.

"I was a little curious this summer because everybody was talking how much better all the additions we have done," said Biron. "And I kept telling everybody, 'Well, on paper it looks good, but you got put it on the ice, too.' But when you look back at it, I mean, a few of the guys got brought in last year at the trade deadline so they got the feel of the organization, the team, the other players.

"Then they went and brought some very good character people, three captains, with Jason Smith, Kimmo Timonen, and Danny Briere."

Briere was the biggest catch of all on July 1. The Flyers won out over Montreal and other clubs and signed the centre to a $52-million, eight-year contract. It was the marquee addition to a team that Holmgren had thoroughly transformed in a space of six months.

Biron and Briere are best friends from their days in Buffalo and the goalie was dearly hoping the Flyers would win out. He remembers trying to reach him in late June but couldn't get in touch with Briere, who had gone to Los Angeles to be with agent Pat Brisson.

"Danny's voicemail said, 'I will not be answering my phone for the next few weeks,' so I stopped calling him because I knew that it was at a loss," said Biron. "I waited for him to give me a call, which took a couple days, and we were both really excited about that opportunity."

But the Flyers' early season success hasn't just been about Biron's goaltending and Briere's offensive contributions. Third-year forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards have been tremendous, each rebounding from thoroughly disappointing 2006-07 seasons.

"They've really stepped it up," Biron said. "A year like last year can really go either way. It can destroy you or you can take it and really come out strong. I think they've taken it the positive way. They worked extremely hard all summer. It showed in camp that they were ready. They were ready to take a bigger role. The young guys on this team remind me a lot of a few years back in Buffalo when the young guys were coming up from Rochester.

"They were playing big roles and big minutes on a team that wasn't supposed to go anywhere. Now you see those guys getting recognized for it."

The great start to the season has Biron and the Flyers thinking more than just making the playoffs.

"I think the expectations are really high," said Biron. "We're looking at our division, too. A very tough division with Pittsburgh, both teams from New York, and the Devils. Our focus is to be at the top of our division and then we'll see where that puts us in the conference and for the playoffs."



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