Sabres didn't help selves with digs about Flyers' divorces

Posted: April 25, 2011

BUFFALO - Daniel Briere has played in more Stanley Cup playoff games than any other NHL player since the lockout. He has been this way before. He has been down and out, in a series and a game. He understands the ebbs and flows of playoff hockey.

The Flyers center knows the one compelling truth this time of year: You can't bear to see it end. So, before the third period yesterday, with Philly down, 4-3, and 20 minutes from elimination, Briere stood up in the dressing room and told his teammates so.

"I'm not ready for it to end," Briere hollered. "It's not time!"

Evidently, Briere's teammates were aroused by his talk. Peter Laviolette, the Flyers' dour coach, said he was fired up, too. Laviolette said it's no coincidence that Briere has been in four conference finals the last 5 years. His words carry weight, along with his play.

Briere had been emotionally charged up, and more than a little angry, since early in the game.

"Honestly, one of their young guys said something to me that was personal and crossed the line," the former Sabre said. "It got me fired up a little bit more than it usually does. That was probably a big part of it."

A Flyers source said Patrick Kaleta made comments to Briere and teammate Scott Hartnell about their divorces early in the Flyers' 5-4, overtime victory, which evened the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at three games apiece.

Hockey players aren't the most complicated people. The smallest things can motivate a team. Earlier in the series, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said his team had been motivated when Philly's Mike Richards said Ruff's guys were getting away with murder.

This is all part of playoff hockey, the mind games that go back and forth. Ruff was at it again after yesterday's loss, suggesting that Richards should be suspended for cheap-shotting Tim Connolly into the boards from behind late in the second period.

Maybe the personal digs by Kaleta were no big deal. But Briere scored Philly's first goal after the Sabres surged to an early 2-0 lead. He scored again to tie the game in the second. And it was Hartnell who tied the game, 4-4, after Briere's speech.

That's what leaders do. They respond to the biggest challenges. Briere has been a huge factor in this series, one of the main reasons the Flyers are still alive. Now a Sabres team that met every challenge down the stretch is faced with a bigger one: bouncing back after blowing a chance to close out a series at home.

The Sabres have been a remarkably resilient bunch since Christmas, especially since Terry Pegula became owner. But this is uncharted territory for many of them. They're up against a foe with equal character and toughness.

It's the Sabres who are reeling now. They've lost two of their top players, Jason Pominville and Connolly, to injury. They've blown big leads in two consecutive games. They played with fire twice and finally got burned.

The Sabres know how to bounce back. They've won twice in Philadelphia. They're capable of doing it again. But they were a disspirted bunch after Game 6, knowing they had squandered a golden oppportunity. You wonder if a young, wounded team can rise above difficult circumstances one more time.

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