January 7, 2012. That was a good day for Danny Briere, one he no doubt remembers fondly. He scored a hat trick against the Ottawa Senators. It seems like so long ago.
So much has happened since then. Lets see: The New Hampshire primary was held. So was Super Tuesday. Oh, and Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich had a delicious disagreement about grits.
Pitchers and catchers reported. Ryan Howard had a setback. And some people started openly wondering when it might be time to worry about Chase Utley.
What else? Billy Crystal hosted the Oscars again, and a film that maybe five Americans have seen won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. The NCAA selection committee chose its field of 68 and made Bruiser Flint and plenty of Drexel Dragons fans mad in the process. Halle Berry got engaged and poor Jennie Garth got divorced. And its possible that the Italians found Leonardo da Vincis lost masterpiece.
Perhaps most surprising of all, Ilya Bryzgalov -- once lost but now found -- figured out how to stop the small black rubber puck from going into the net. Bryzgalov was named the NHLs No. 1 Star of the Week.
Before Sunday, Bryzgalov had started 11 straight games, going 8-2 (with a no decision). His goals against average over that period was a miserly 1.95, while his save percentage (.929) was enough to make Bernie Parent blanch. Even more unlikely, Bryzgalov -- who shut out the Devils on Tuesday in a 3-0 Flyers win -- seems to have won over the fans that had spent much of the season shaking their heads at the previously-shaky goaltender.
Yes, Jan. 7 was a long time ago. Too long if you ask Briere. Until Tuesday evening, that was the last time Briere scored a goal.
In the third period, Briere knocked in an empty-net goal on his second attempt. When Briere scored, both of his arms went up into the air and the crowd rose to its feet to applaud him. It was his 14th goal and it ended an inexplicable 23-game drought, the longest hed ever gone in a single season without depositing a puck into the back of the net. (While he was with the Phoenix Coyotes, Briere had a 31-game drought that stretched from the end of the 1998-99 campaign into the beginning of the 1999-00 season.)
That was a perfect example of someone whos not playing with a lot of confidence -- the first shot, you know? Briere said. Ninety-nine percent of the time I would have faked a shot and gone around the defenseman, but I was so nervous I tried to rush it, just like Ive been the last few games. Hopefully now I can relax a little bit and start scoring more goals.
Briere is not a large man -- he is officially listed at 5-10, 179 pounds, which is some generous number manipulation -- but he has always had oversized talent. The Flyers have long counted on his scoring ability. If hes going to start scoring more goals, the Flyers certainly wont complain. Though the Flyers scored three times against New Jersey, they have posted one or no goals on five occasions over the last 10 games.
If Briere was anxious to be done with this frustrating drought, he wasnt alone. The crowd was clearly behind him on Tuesday, as though they thought that their collective support might help to end his agony.
For a while, it looked like Brieres drought might continue. In the first period, defenseman Nicklas Grossmann fired the puck in on New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur. The attempt missed wide left, ricocheted off the boards, and trickled out in front of the net on the right side. Briere was there. Everything was set up nicely. But then the puck skipped past Brieres stick. The crowd let out a loud awwww in unison.
Early in the second period, Briere had another good look. Jakub Voracek came screaming down the left wing and threaded a beautiful pass in front of the crease to find Briere all alone on the right side. Once again, the timing didnt work out. Briere missed what appeared to be a terrific chance to knock one in against Brodeur. The crowd groaned -- not so much at Briere as with him.
It was frustrating lately, especially when the chances there, Briere admitted. The one in the second period when Jake fed it backdoor, it was flat all the way and then at the last second it hit a rut and jumped over my stick. Thats exactly the way its been going lately.
And now? If he was frustrated before the game and during parts of it, what emotions was he experiencing after finally busting his slump?
Relief, Briere said simply, and with a smile.
E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org