"I think some people rise to big occasions," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "I'm not saying it because he scored a goal today. He's done it his whole career."
Nothing lasts forever, though, and it was fair to wonder whether Briere would be his postseason self this year. For one thing, he is not getting younger. For another, the Flyers are. The transition toward a younger, faster team is seldom good for 34-year-olds.
But the biggest reason for doubt was Briere's own regular season. He got off to a decent start before a Jan. 21 concussion. Briere didn't miss many games, but it was weeks before he scored another goal. He just didn't look like himself.
"It was tough," Briere said after putting two pucks in the net in overtime Sunday. "It was a trying time. Looking back, I remember I had a severe concussion early in my career when I was 21 years old. It took me almost a year to bounce back from that. I don't know if that had anything to do [with it], but after the concussion this year, I went into a lull for almost two months."
Let's agree. He snapped out of it. Briere has been fantastic in this postseason. He was the guy who jump-started the Flyers' first comeback against Pittsburgh in the first round. And after a period of lackluster team play against the New Jersey Devils, he was the guy who kick-started them again.
"When the playoffs started, for me it was a chance for a new season," Briere said. "You erase everything that happened before. You start anew. You try to help out your team as much as possible."
It started even before Briere's first goal of the game, a breakaway that looked remarkably like his first goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins (only onside this time). When he came out for the second period, Briere was skating faster and throwing his body around with more abandon than anyone else on the ice. He may have jarred himself more than any of the Devils, but he also changed the tone of the game.
When he fired a shot past the sprawling Martin Brodeur, the Flyers and a building full of their fans came roaring to life.
"Is it pressure?" Briere said. "I don't know. It's fun. I grew up watching playoff hockey when I was a kid, and I always dreamed that one day I would have a chance to play in those big games. When I've had the opportunity, you try to make the best of it. Try to enjoy it as much as possible. It's not actually pressure. It's a fun time, an exciting time."
Briere is in a unique position to set the tone for this team. Not only is he one of the experienced veterans and a proven postseason star, he literally has provided a home to some of the team's key young players. Claude Giroux lived with Briere and his sons for a while. Sean Couturier moved in this season. Brayden Schenn hangs with Couturier.
So maybe it's not a coincidence that the team has seized the moment so far in this postseason. It is what Briere has always done.
"Through the course of history in sports, there are certain people who answer the bell," Laviolette said.
It was tolling for the Flyers after New Jersey tied the game in the third period. After rousing from their sluggish start and taking control of the game, the Flyers saw their work undone when Ilya Bryzgalov allowed a soft goal. It was the first of two opportunities for them to let down.
But they came out strong again in overtime and mobbed Briere after he put the puck in the net. The goal was disallowed - correctly - when a replay review showed he had kicked it in.
"I think it's a little obvious," Briere said. "I think they made the right call there. There's a few seconds on the bench where you're shaking your head and say, 'I can't believe this is happening.' Then it's all right, time to stop pouting now. Time to refocus."
Just a couple of minutes later, with new linemate James van Riemsdyk screening Brodeur, Briere fired another puck into the net. He pumped his fist again. His teammates mobbed him again. The moment was there and he had seized it.
Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at philly.com/philabuster
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