Danny Brieres line with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds did a lot of damage during the Flyers last series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, combining for 18 points and, on a number of occasions, providing the Flyers with a much-needed jumpstart that spurred them on to victory.
And thats why it came as a surprise that coach Peter Laviolette elected to shuffle the Flyers lines for Sunday afternoons Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New Jersey Devils. If Brieres line wasnt broken last week, why tinker with it now?
The answer, as it turns out, was James van Riemsdyk.
Laviolette moved van Riemsdyk onto a line with Briere and Jakub Voracek, hoping to give the Flyers third-year forward a boost, to help him recapture some of the postseason magic hed demonstrated a year ago.
Given the Flyers offensive success against the Penguins, it was a gamble. But considering the outcome -- a 4-3 Flyers overtime victory -- and the huge role that line played in the win, its certainly one that paid off.
The week really provided the opportunity to push van Riemsdyk with his conditioning and pace, Laviolette said. On-ice play just in practice. Once we got going as a group, he really factored into the game with his speed and size.
Everybody remembers what he was able to do last year in the playoffs. After a good week of practice, we wanted to put him in position where he could be successful, and he was.
Briere scored two goals, including the OT game-winner. Voracek was credited with an assist on each of them. And van Riemsdyks goal, his first since Jan. 5, gave the Flyers their first lead of the afternoon. The three combined for five points and 11 shots on net.
Van Riemsdyks impact on the line and on the game goes beyond the scoresheet, though. He had played only limited minutes in Game 5 and Game 6 against the Pens, the first two games he played since returning from a broken foot sustained March 1. But on Sunday, van Riemsdyk looked more like the Flyer he was last postseason -- the towering forward that was consistently among the best players on the ice.
He moved much more fluidly than he had against the Penguins. He played the fast, physical game that hes said time and again is how he looks when hes at his best. His successful screen and persistent pressure on Devils goalie Martin Brodeur led to Brieres game-winner.
In other words, the coachs goal was accomplished -- with results even better than he could have hoped for.
The way he skated, the way he was so strong, Briere said. The way he skated in the second and third and overtime, that was great to see. It's a guy we didn't see in the first round. He only played a little bit in the last two games trying to get his game, but we had the whole week to start getting his wind and his legs under him.
The way he played last year in the playoffs, if he keeps playing the same way, that's another huge asset up front for us. What a game he had.
Last year, van Riemsdyk netted seven goals in 11 playoff games. He did that without Brieres help, though, at least not in the moment. Interestingly, in a way, Briere has had a lot to do with van Riemsdyk becoming the playoff performer his coach and teammates know hes capable of being -- even when the two aren't paired up on the ice.
I always love playing those big games, van Riemsdyk said. Ive had a lot of great players to learn from. I remember my first year, I was talking to Danny Briere a little bit about what to expect in the playoffs, and he went out there and put out an absolute show out there, taking us to the Cup finals there.
And I think I learned a lot from him and that definitely helped me in the next go-round.
As it turns out, van Riemsdyk helped Briere a lot and Voracek, too this time around.
E-mail Sarah Baicker at email@example.com