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Canadiens look to Briere to step up in playoffs after low-key regular season

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

BROSSARD, Que. - The Montreal Canadiens didn't sign unrestricted free agent Daniel Briere last summer so he could dazzle in the regular season.

General manager Marc Bergevin saw a chance not only to pick up a popular player from Quebec, but also to add a proven playoff scorer.

Now—after a season in which he sat out some games, spent much of his time on the fourth line and ranked 21st on the team in average ice time per game at 12:46—it is Briere's time to deliver.

The Gatineau, Que., native has 109 points in 108 career playoff games with Phoenix, Buffalo and Philadelphia, including 52 points in his last 45 post-season games for the Flyers from 2010 to 2012.

The Canadiens, who inked him to a two-year contact worth US$4 million per season, will need his post-season scoring touch when they face the tight-checking Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.

"For me, the mindset going in has never been 'I'm a playoff performer,'" the 36-year-old said Monday. "When I prepare, what I'm thinking is that I want to be the guy that makes the big play.

"I want the puck when the game's on the line. It's not about thinking that I'm a playoff performer or that I'm better than anyone. I wish it was clearer or that there was a better explanation, but there really isn't."

The best-of-seven series begins Wednesday night in Tampa.

How coach Michel Therrien will use the five-foot-10 forward is uncertain, but he will no doubt be given more of a chance to make a difference than in the regular season.

He had 13 goals and 12 assists in 69 games this season. But Montreal scored only four regulation-time goals in four games against the Bolts this season, and Briere had two of them.

The Bolts won three of their four meetings, but three of the games went to either overtime or a shootout. Their last game on April 1 marked the first time in their last six meetings that the game was decided by more than one goal. The Lightning won 3-1.

Briere has the most playoff experience on the Canadiens, ahead of captain Brian Gionta's 95 games and Douglas Murray's 72. Travis Moen, who will miss at least the start of the series with a concussion, has played 73 playoff games.

Experience seems to have made Briere a better performer. In 2009-10, he had 30 points in 23 games as the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup final. He had 22 points in 22 games over the following two post-seasons, including 15 goals.

"We all know experience is important," he said. "There's nerves, how to deal with pressure.

"One of the biggest factors is how you learn to react in certain situations—after a loss, after a bad play or a bad call. Last year, these guys (the Canadiens) losing to Ottawa was a tough break. Nobody liked losing in the first round in five, but at the same time, it's a lot of experience. These guys learned from it and it will make us a better team this year."

The Canadiens spent much of their one-hour practice working on special teams. They were 0-for-23 on the power play in their last eight regular season games.

"We know it's going to be key," said Briere. "I expect a series that is very defensive.

"Tampa's a disciplined team, not just with penalties but with their system. I don't expect too many breakdowns on their part. That's why special teams will be important. Our power play wasn't clicking late in the season, but we also feel it can be a huge weapon with the players we have."

The Lightning won their last four games to claim home-ice advantage by finishing one point ahead of the Canadiens for second place in the Atlantic Division. The Bolts had talked for the last two weeks of the importance of having home ice in what will likely to a be closely contested series.

Curiously, the Canadiens played down the home-ice factor. They rested some veterans in the final week and didn't seem upset at being overtaken.

"You'd have to ask them why they wanted it more," said defenceman Josh Gorges. "Our focus was more on our game and how we were playing and on getting ourselves prepared for the playoffs.

"If you focus on those things, the games will take care of themselves."

Forward Brandon Prust, who missed the last 12 games with an upper body injury, was back at practice but Therrien said he was not yet certain to play in Game 1. Centre Lars Eller returned after missing three games with an illness and said he was ready.

The Canadiens announced they have signed prospect Jacob de la Rose to a three-year entry level contract. The six-for-three 187-pound de la Rose, drafted 34th overall in 2013, was a top-line forward on Sweden's silver medallist team at the world junior championship.


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