- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — Danny Briere was enemy No. 1 among Washington hockey fans last season after an infamous incident with Alex Ovechkin three weeks after the Capitals’ superstar was penalized and fined for shoving the much smaller Briere, then with the Buffalo Sabres, into the boards.

But the pain that Briere, now with Philadelphia, is inflicting on the Caps in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals is hurting a lot more than that slash the day after Christmas 2006. After scoring two early goals in Game 1, Briere scored two goals and set up another as the host Flyers won 6-3 to take a 2-1 lead in the best of seven series which continues here tomorrow.

“Danny is a big-time, big-game player,” Flyers center Mike Richards said of the 5-foot-10, 179-pound Briere. “He played really well down the stretch, and in the playoffs, he’s been remarkable. He’s kind of leading right now and everyone [else] is hopping on his back.”

The Flyers gave Briere, then 30, an eight-year, $52 million contract last summer hoping that he could help them advance in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. He dropped from a career-high 95 points to 72 but did lead the team with 31 goals, nine in his final 13 games after being a big part of a 10-game tailspin in February.

“There [was] a stretch when we were in a funk,” Briere said. “[But] in the last stretch, our line [was] clicking. We’ve been building a lot of confidence. Early in my career, I thought the playoffs would just happen every year. After missing [three of the last six], I realize how important every chance is that you get.”

Briere didn’t waste many chances last night. At 16:10 of the first period, Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn passed out of his own zone to the speeding Vinny Prospal. With Briere trailing the play, John Erskine, not one of Washington’s top defensemen, was forced to make a choice and when he moved towards Prospal, Briere had a clear shot.

“Danny has a great shot, great hockey sense, but most of all, he gets in the dirty spots to get goals,” said Flyers goalie Martin Biron, a teammate since 2003 in Buffalo. “You saw that tonight.”

After Eric Fehr tied the game at 17:10, Briere raced ahead with the puck before dropping it to Prospal in the left circle. Briere then scooted to the front of the net, tying up Caps defenseman Tom Poti and at least partly screeing Huet from seeing Scott Hartnell’s one-timer from the left circle that beat the goalie at 18:26.

Then with 3:01 left in the second period, the pesky Briere followed the previously penalized Hartnell in running Huet. But this time, the Caps didn’t gain a power play because the ticked-off goalie retaliated by getting up and shoving Briere to the ice. As the whistle blew a second time, Briere bumped Huet again before heading to the box.

“Huet’s coming out of the crease and creating a little interference because he knows he’s going to get the calls,” Briere said.

The coup de grace came with 9.8 seconds remaining in the period. With Poti off for hooking, Richards kept the puck in the offensive zone and passed to Prospal who found Briere lurking below the left circle. Huet couldn’t get over in time to stop the game-winning shot that gave Briere a playoff-leading four goals.

“Danny’s just a little guy, but he’s very strong on the puck,” Prospal said. “He’s a very smart player. He finds the holes and makes things happen. It’s great to play with a player like that.”

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