Ex-Flyer Briere still Mr. May

ASSOCIATED PRESS Canadiens' Danny Briere seems to ramp up his game during the playoffs.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Canadiens' Danny Briere seems to ramp up his game during the playoffs.
Posted: May 16, 2014

DANNY BRIERE was a healthy scratch in Game 5 of the Montreal Canadiens' playoff series against the Boston Bruins. Let us begin there, because Briere is what everyone knows he is, including him - that is, nearing the end. Finally playing for the team that he loved as a kid, playing on the fourth line, a great career is winding down.

Just for the record, here are Briere's ice times in games this post-season: 18:48, 11:04, 8:27 and 9:34 against Tampa Bay; 12:21, 9:07, 6:08, 8:02, DNP, 10:01 and 8:06 against the Bruins.

And he still has six points in these playoffs.

Eight minutes, six seconds in Game 7. It is well less than half of the time Briere used to get. Eight minutes, six seconds - and less than a minute of it in the third period - yet Briere still had a goal in that third period, banging the puck in off Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara's skate. He had that goal, and he had the primary assist on the Canadiens' first goal, and he now has seven points in five career Game 7s. Because of that, Briere is going to the conference finals with the Canadiens at age 36.

He is the personification of an ongoing debate in the sports world - that is, whether there is such a thing as a clutch player in sports. Are there people who recognize big moments and lift their level of play? Are there players whose performance at the most important times is noteworthy enough to assign them a hashtag - like, say, #clutchtime. Oh, wait.

Truth be told, most people were fine with the Flyers buying out Briere. That isn't the issue as far as they are concerned - it is whether Vinny Lecavalier will ever come close to living up to the long contract he signed as Briere's de facto replacement. After a first season as a square peg in their lineup - never seeming to fit in anywhere, never seeming to be completely healthy, playing on the fourth line to start the playoffs and then moved to the second line, partly as a why-not move and partly because of the unspoken fear that the Rangers' skilled fourth line would eat him alive - Year 2 is obviously enormous for Lecavalier and the Flyers.

But this really has nothing to do with Briere, and his knack.

People who do statistical analysis in baseball will tell you that there is no such thing as a clutch player - that the sample sizes are too small to make those kinds of determinations, and that good players tend to be good clutch hitters and bad players tend to be the opposite and that's that. This was settled law in the sabermetric world for a long time, until Bill James kind of changed his mind. Kind of. The problem seems to be the definition of a clutch situation and, well, whatever.

It just seems to me that everybody would accept this reality: that a player who has a sick child at home, who isn't sleeping well, who is spending more time at home, who is doing less pregame video work at the park, might very well have physical and mental reasons to be slumping. Again, everyone - regardless of their statistical proclivities - would accept this.

Then why not the opposite? Why is it not possible that a player who gets more rest during the playoffs, who does more pregame video work, who is more focused and feels more confident as a result - why is it not possible that this player would overperform his established numbers in those situations?

Because it does seem to happen, at least sometimes. And when you look at a sport like hockey, where success is two parts skill, one part guile and one part fortitude (this formula is patent-pending, by the way) - where the "want-to" does seem to matter more than in the other sports, maybe even more than among NFL linemen - there is Briere. Again.

He has finally dipped below the point-per-game average in his playoff career, but just barely. He has .97 points per game, which is good for 19th in NHL history for guys who have played at least 100 games. Sixteen of the 18 players ahead of him are either in the Hockey Hall of Fame or will be.

And if he is not the player he once was - if he is not a player who the Canadiens are willing to put on the ice very much while protecting a lead in the third period - he told ESPN.com after the Game 7 that he sat on the bench and just tried to stay ready.

He said, "Stay within the game and stay ready in case they need you. I finally had my chance and it paid off."

Because, as it turns out, he is still Danny Briere, after all.


On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: philly.com/DNL

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