Danny Briere: Facing the Flyers won't be easy

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Danny Briere: Facing the Flyers won't be easy

Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux both lived with Danny Briere for a time.
 
Couturier, however, was his housemate, along with Briere’s three boys, for 18 months.

“We talked once in a while and are still in touch -- he’s a good friend,” Couturier said. “It’s a special game for both of us.

“You are with him almost 24/7. Since Day One, he took me under his wing and kind of adopted me. I felt like a big brother to his kids, his boys. It was a fun experience.”
 
It’s one thing to go up against former teammates, but imagine how awkward it’s going to be Saturday in Montreal for all three players when the Flyers meet the Canadiens for the first time this season.
 
“Facing guys I have been with a lot of years, the past few seasons, guys I had a chance to live with, it’s kind of a weird feeling,” Briere said. “You’re excited to see them, but it’s also weird to face them. We all know when the puck drops, it gets competitive. I know these guys are the same way. They’re not going to give me an inch out there.
 
“It’s never easy when you face ex-teammates. I remember my first few games facing Buffalo with the Flyers, they were always tough games, mentally to get ready for and also on the ice. You have to shut off the fact they’re you buddies and try to move on for that three-hour span.”
 
The Flyers bought Briere out of the final two years of his contract last June. He was owed just $5 million in real dollars (not salary cap dollars). Briere ended up signing a two-year deal with Montreal worth $8 million overall.
 
“There’s no hard feelings,” he said. “I said it the day I talked to you guys after the Flyers bought me out. There are no hard feelings. They were very respectful ... Honestly, I have no complaints. It was agreed upon, it was fair and the Flyers needed to get under the cap. I understand. You move on.”
 
Briere spent much of August training with the Flyers at Skate Zone in Voorhees. His boys live in Haddonfield, NJ, with his ex-wife. They will get to fly back and forth to Montreal as their school schedule, plus the Canadiens' schedule, permits.
 
“It’s working out good,” Briere said. “In today’s world with all the communications that we have, it’s a lot easier to communicate and stay in touch. Last year, I got a little taste of it with playing in Europe during the lockout. It’s not ideal but we make it work.”
 
Briere had been the Flyers' biggest offensive threat in the playoffs during his six years here. Besides leading the NHL in the 2010 playoffs with 30 points, Briere compiled 37 goals, 35 assists for 72 points in 68 playoff games -- better than a point-a-game player as a Flyer.
 
Briere was minus-1 in Montreal’s season-opening 4-3 loss to Toronto. He played on David Desharnais’ line with Max Pacioretty.
 
He was honored pregame when Montreal allowed him to accept the torch from Habs legend Guy Lafleur, a tradition before every hockey season symbolizing handing the reins of leadership of the team.
 
“Yeah, it was a pretty special feeling and very special night,” Briere said. “I think the Montreal Canadiens organization showed a lot of class by giving me that chance to be the first one to get that torch from one of the all-time greats in Guy Lafleur.
 
It’s different being a French-Canadien playing in Quebec than being American or even a Canadian from another province.
 
When he didn’t sign with Montreal as a free agent after leaving Buffalo seven years ago, people in Quebec felt betrayed. Briere was booed every time he touched the puck during the six years he was a Flyer.
 
Back then, he was younger -- had not even turned 30 -- and admitted he didn’t want the pressure of playing in Montreal. Now it’s different. He’s older -- turns 36 in two days -- and far more mature.
 
“Everyone is different,” he said. “There are players out there that it doesn’t affect them. The media pressure just won’t affect them. Other guys would rather stay away from it. They’d rather play in a quiet place and do their job and not be bothered.
 
“We all have different personalities. It works for certain guys and doesn’t work as well for other guys. I really believe it is easier as you get older and get to know yourself better. You’re a little bit more mature.”
 
He’s had one major adjustment in Montreal from Philly.
 
“Having to do interviews in French and English,” he said. “Whatever it takes, 15-20 minutes, you have to double that. I was coming in knowing that and expecting it from the start. At my age, too, it might be easier to face that, deal with that than if I were 20, 21, 22 years old.”
 
The Flyers had trouble scoring goals last season, had trouble scoring goals this preseason, and got just one against the Maple Leafs.
 
Briere said there was too much offensive talent on the Flyers for scoring to become a serious issue with them. He did add …
 
“Hopefully, it lasts one more game."

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

All week on Philly Sports Talk on CSN, we examine how our teams got to this point and where they are in the rebuilding process. 
 
Today, we finish up by taking a look at the Flyers.

 
How did we get here?
The Flyers' rebuild had begun when Ron Hextall returned to his old stomping grounds in the summer of 2013 as the team's new assistant general manager.
 
He took over GM duties after one season and the philosophical change was in place. Paul Holmgren was made president and Hextall's imprint, which had already started, was ready to become bigger.
 
What Hextall inherited was a cap-stricken team fresh off a first-round playoff loss, an organization that had tried to spend its way to immediate results instead of putting greater focus on the long game.
 
Some of the past decisions are well-documented: signing enigmatic goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal in 2011 after trading for him. With a buyout, the Flyers are still paying Bryzgalov through 2027. Signing veteran center Vinny Lecavalier to a five-year, $22.5 million contract in 2013. And signing imposing defenseman Chris Pronger to a seven-year, $34.55 million extension — nobody could foresee the unfortunate concussion issues that suddenly derailed Pronger's career, but it was nonetheless a hurdle for the Flyers moving forward.
 
Hextall has adeptly maneuvered through much of those rocky waters.
 
Now, the Flyers are a more cost-efficient (partly because they have to be in this salary cap world), draft-oriented organization planning for the future while not ignoring the present. This rebuild hasn't been a total demolition, but more of a retooling — a smart but tricky process, especially down the line.
 
Are the Flyers on the right path back to prosperity?
The youth is coming.
 
Hextall, oftentimes close to the vest, made that abundantly clear at his end-of-the-season press conference.
 
"Our young players, they've done enough," Hextall said in early April. "Our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."
 
But the really hard part is just beginning — results. Can the prospects catch up and meet the current core? The pressure for it to start has never been higher.
 
Help does appear to be on the way, though, for a team that regressed this season and missed the playoffs for the third time in the past five years.
 
Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom and Carter Hart give the Flyers future options in net.
 
Two promising prospects are expected to join Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and company on the blue line.
 
Oskar Lindblom, a dynamic 20-year-old winger, could crack the Flyers' group of forwards, which should have Jordan Weal and Valtteri Filppula for a full season.
 
Also, don't forget forward Mike Vecchione, a Hobey Baker finalist who signed with the Flyers out of Union College in late March.
 
Oh, and the No. 2 pick of the draft — likely a talented center — is in the Flyers' grasp.
 
The 2017-18 season will be a telling time for the Flyers. Patience has been required, but when will it be rewarded?
 
The clock is ticking.