PHILADELPHIA — Danny Briere saw the replay, smiled and knew it. He kicked the puck like he was playing soccer, and his apparent overtime game-winning goal wasn't going to stand.
"There's a few seconds where you're shaking your head, saying 'They made the wrong call, and I can't believe this is happening,' " the Philadelphia Flyers forward said. "And I said 'All right, you've got to stop pouting now, let's get back, refocus.' "
It didn't take long for Briere to set off another wild celebration at Wells Fargo Center, his heroics coming through with a goal that counted to give the Flyers a 4-3 victory Sunday and a 1-0 series lead over the New Jersey Devils in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Briere has become Mr. Playoffs for the Flyers, having scored 26 goals in his past 41 postseason games and putting up 69 points in his 64 playoff games with Philadelphia.
"I think some people rise to the big occasions," coach Peter Laviolette said. "It speaks to the player, not a game. I think through the course of history in sports, there are people who answer the bell."
Briere answered the bell twice for the Flyers on Sunday, scoring on a breakaway in the second period and then saving his best for overtime. He didn't waste much time before recording his 13th career game-winning playoff goal, just 2:23 after his disallowed goal.
"He's been doing that his whole career," Flyers center Claude Giroux said. "He's clutch. He's a guy we count on."
Some players wilt under those burdensome expectations. Not Briere.
"I don't know, is it pressure? It's fun. I was saying earlier, I grew up watching playoff hockey when I was a kid, and I always dreamed I would have the chance to play in those big games," he said. "When I have the opportunity like I have right now, this year, like I've had the last few years in the playoffs, you try to make the best of it. You try to enjoy it as much as possible. So it's not really pressure. It's a fun time, an exciting time."
This playoff success, namely seven goals in the Flyers' first seven games, came after what seemed like a rough regular season for Briere. After his hat trick against the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 7, he had just one goal (an empty-netter) in his next 29 games.
Talking about this season, Briere recalled a concussion when he was 21 years old knocking him off his game for almost a year. His January concussion did the same thing.
Only in March did Briere recapture his usual form. April has been even better.
"When the playoffs started it was kind of a chance for a new season," he said. "You erase everything that's happened before, and you can't even look back at anything that's happened before in your career. It's a new season. And I was able to get a couple breaks in the first game in Pittsburgh, and after that things kind of got rolling."
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov disagreed with the notion that Briere had a disappointing season, even though the 34-year-old called it a "tough, trying time."
"We know what he capable to do. He can score the goals when you give him a chance. He always put it in the net," Bryzgalov said. "He's a great player. He's a great scorer, and he can do some things."
But Briere doing even greater things in the playoffs shouldn't be a surprise. In the regular season he has averaged .791 points a game. The postseason, he's just over a point a game.
"When it gets to the playoffs," Laviolette said, "this is the guy that takes off."
And brings the Flyers with him.
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