Despite the odds, Briere hopes to remain a Flyer

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Despite the odds, Briere hopes to remain a Flyer

VOORHEES, N.J. -- While the Flyers cleaned out their lockers, packed up their equipment and met with the team’s coaching staff, a small but dedicated group of fans waited in the parking lot outside Skate Zone.

Most of them were wearing or holding Danny Briere’s No. 48 sweater, hoping to shake the hand or get the autograph of the longtime fan favorite who has likely played his last game with the Flyers.

Briere, 35, is a probable victim of the NHL’s new CBA. Two years remain on his contract, and with a cap hit of $6.5 million for each, he is arguably too expensive to keep around.

The league’s salary cap goes down to $64.3 million next year, from $70.4 million this season. Right now, the Flyers have exactly $0 free under the cap; something’s got to give.

Briere, though he knows there’s a very big chance to the contrary, doesn’t want the casualty to be him.

“I hope not,” he said, at Sunday’s team break-up day. “At this point, it’s out of my control. We’ll see what happens, but I certainly hope I’ll still be here.”

Briere had a rough season in 2013. He scored just six goals (16 points) in 36 games and was a minus-13, missing the beginning of the season because of a fractured wrist and sustaining a concussion in practice earlier this spring.

Because of his impressive playoff performance last spring (eight goals and 13 points in 11 games), it’s easy to forget that Briere struggled in 2011-12, too. He went a stretch of 23 games without a goal, and was visibly frustrated as he fought to get back on track.

But that doesn’t mean the veteran forward is without value. The Flyers would lose a lot by buying out his contract or even trading him to a willing partner.

“A leader, a class act in the community, great teammate and a guy that can score goals,” Scott Hartnell said. “He’s obviously been one of our most consistent guys the past six years. Who knows what is going to happen?”

As of Sunday, Briere said he had not been approached by general manager Paul Holmgren about the possibility of waiving his no-movement clause. While so much focus has been on whether the Flyers might use one of their two amnesties on him, it’s entirely possible they could attempt to trade him to a team with cap space and a need for leadership. There are more than a few of those.

Briere didn’t say he’d refuse to be traded; he just made it very clear he’d prefer to stay in Philadelphia.

“I’ve said it all along: My family’s here, my kids are here,” Briere said. “This is my first choice, this is where I want to be. But I understand it’s a business, so we’ll see happens with that. My first goal is to be here.”

A class act and friend to the media, Briere has been candid all season long about his struggles on the ice and the possibility of this being his final season in an orange and black jersey.

He’s clearly disappointed by the way things currently stand, but having been in the NHL for 15 seasons, he recognizes the reality that the new CBA and shrinking salary cap create. That goes for the frequent questioning by reporters, too, about what it all means for his future. Briere has answered those all season long with patience and class.

“I understand it,” he said. “It’s part of the business. It’s not fun, it’s not easy. But I see it as the trade rumors. I’ve been through them before in my career. I try to approach it the same way. But I also understand it’s part of the game. With the new CBA, that’s the thing that came out with the buyouts. Unfortunately, I could be one of the guys that pays the price for it.

“I’ve also said before that there’s also so many good things that have happened over the course of my career with the CBA, because of the CBA, that it wouldn’t be right to complain about it.”

And so, he hasn’t. Despite his struggles, Briere, who serves as an alternate captain, has continued to be the consummate teammate.

Team captain Claude Giroux, of course, lived with Briere and his sons in Haddonfield, N.J., early on in his career with the Flyers. After he left, Sean Couturier moved in. Briere's loss would be a large one, especially to the Flyers' younger players, but Giroux understands the big decisions that management must make.

“That’s the tough part of hockey,” Giroux said. “You get close with some of the guys on the team, and the next year they’re gone. Obviously, it’s the business part of it, but you just need to understand it.”

Best of NHL: Red Wings' 25-year playoff streak snapped in loss

Best of NHL: Red Wings' 25-year playoff streak snapped in loss

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Lee Stempniak and Joakim Nordstrom scored about five minutes apart in the first period, and the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 Tuesday night in the teams' second meeting in two nights.

Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm also scored for Carolina and Cam Ward stopped 21 shots. The Hurricanes have earned a point in 12 straight games (8-0-4) to move four points out of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.

The Red Wings beat the Hurricanes on Monday in a makeup game rescheduled from Dec. 19 when a Freon leak at PNC Arena made for unplayable ice. Tuesday's contest was regularly scheduled.

The postponement resulted in three games in the three days for the Red Wings. They won the first two but visibly struggled with their energy in the finale to snap a four-game point streak.

Tomas Nosek scored his first NHL goal and Jimmy Howard made 28 saves for Detroit (see full recap).

Rask backstops Bruins to important win over Predators
BOSTON -- Tuukka Rask made 24 saves in his return from a one-game absence and the Boston Bruins beat the Nashville Predators 4-1 on Tuesday night, boosting their playoff chances.

Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Noel Acciari and David Backes scored for the Bruins, who moved three points ahead of idle Tampa Bay for the second Eastern Conference wild card with six games remaining. Boston began the night a point behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.

Rask was sidelined with a lower-body injury for Boston's 2-1 road win against the New York Islanders on Saturday.

Bergeron's goal was his 18th of the season, and Krejci got his 22nd. Acciari scored his first career goal in 43 NHL games, Backes netted his 17th of the season and Zdeno Chara earned his 600th NHL point with an assist on Boston's first goal (see full recap).

Matthews sets rookie scoring mark in Leafs' win
TORONTO -- Auston Matthews broke Wendel Clark's 31-year-old franchise rookie record with his 35th goal of the season, and the Toronto Maple Leafs earned a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.

The victory kept Toronto (87 points) one point up on the Boston Bruins (86) for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division and four up on the Tampa Bay Lightning (83).

Curtis McElhinney made 25 saves to earn the win for the Leafs. Leo Komarov and Zach Hyman also scored for Toronto.

James Reimer allowed two goals on 14 shots for Florida before he was knocked from the game with an injury and replaced by Reto Berra, who made 10 saves. Reilly Smith and Jaromir Jagr scored for the Panthers (see full recap).

Oshie's OT goal for Caps beats Wild after Ovi hat trick
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- T.J. Oshie scored his second goal of the game 1:42 into overtime to bookend Alex Ovechkin's hat trick, Braden Holtby earned his 40th win and the Washington Capitals beat the Minnesota Wild 5-4 on Tuesday night for their fifth straight victory.

After Eric Staal's goal for the Wild tied the game with 26.6 seconds left in regulation, Oshie took a pass in the left circle from Marcus Johansson and beat struggling Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk with a wrist shot. Johansson had four assists.

Martin Hanzal and Jason Pominville had a goal and an assist apiece, but the Wild lost for the eighth time in nine games and fell to 3-11-1 in March after forward Zach Parise exited early with an injury (see full recap).

Flyers win game over Senators, but fail to gain ground in wild-card race

Flyers win game over Senators, but fail to gain ground in wild-card race

BOX SCORE

It was a special night as 24-year-old Jordan Weal hoisted his team upon his young shoulders, saving the Flyers in regulation and then winning for them in the shootout.
 
Yet in the end, even though the Flyers defeated Ottawa 3-2, they still lost (see Instant Replay).
 
Lost where it counts most -- in the wild-card standings.
 
Boston's 4-1 win over Nashville kept the Flyers six points behind in the wild card, but more significantly, reduced the Flyers' tragic number to six.
 
Six Bruins points or six points lost by the Flyers moving forward will eliminate Dave Hakstol's club from the playoffs.
 
"The last five or six games, we've been playing pretty good," Wayne Simmonds said. "After I looked up and saw Boston win, it sucks."
 
These last four games -- including the loss to Columbus -- have seen the kind of consistency the Flyers have craved and not gotten enough of during the second half of the season.
 
Had they been playing this type of sound, focused hockey in late January through February, they'd own a playoff spot right now.
 
"Even before that, we were losing games we should have been winning," Michael Del Zotto said. "That's the beauty of the game: there's no easy games.
 
"Consistency is the biggest factor. The teams at the top of the standings have been consistent all year long … not stringing three or four losses in a row, which is tough to come back on, especially this year with our division playing so well."
 
These days, one Flyer playing with every-night consistency is Weal, the kid the LA Kings sent to the Flyers as part of the Vinny Lecavalier deal.
 
Ottawa's Kyle Turris broke a 1-1 tie with 7:25 left on a goal that Steve Mason never saw through a thick screen. It was a deflating moment given how hard the Flyers worked defensively.
 
Two minutes later, Sens goalie Craig Anderson tried to clear the puck from behind the net and Weal intercepted, then scored on empty net to tie, 2-2.
 
Ottawa challenged that Simmonds interfered at the net and lost. Simmonds skated to the post and effectively prevented Anderson from getting there in time.
 
"It's my ice. I got there before him. It doesn't matter so long as I'm not in the blue paint," Simmonds said. "He touched me. It's my ice. He ran into the back of me."
 
That set up overtime and a bunch of missed opportunities before Weal beat Anderson once more during the shootout to clinch it. He's 2 for 2 here in shootouts.
 
Weal has six goals in 18 games. He is playing aggressively above his 5-foot-8 or so height. He seems to have earned his keep for next season as a regular and not a call-up, which he's been since early February.
 
Asked if he felt he's cemented his position as a Flyer, Weal replied, "Not at all. No, this is one of the best leagues in the world. Nothing is given to you here. You've got to keep working all the time, year to year. Your position is never guaranteed."
 
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol likes what he has seen, but won't talk about Weal's future.
 
"He's earned everything he's got and continues to do that on a daily basis," Hakstol said. "I wouldn't say he's brought a different vibe or energy. He's brought energy in his own way and has been a good two-way player. He's scored some big goals for us. He's a reliable player, who generates and creates offensively."
 
Weal's play on Valterri Filppula's line with Simmonds has had a trickle-down effect on the lineup, creating better matchups for the Flyers. He's taken pressure off Claude Giroux's line, and particularly, Sean Couturier's unit with Dale Weise and Brayden Schenn.
 
"They've been good together," Hakstol said of the Filppula unit. "Simmonds is playing some of his best hockey of the year, in terms of a power forward game.
 
"He's very tough to handle down low and that's adding an element for Fil and Wealer there. They seem to have chemistry here in the very short amount of time they've been together."
 
It's something for Flyer fans to look forward to next season. No one is talking about next season yet, but deep down inside, the players realize some of them need to make lasting impressions with the season running out on them.
 
The consistency in effort the Flyers have shown recently is exactly what they should have shown when it counted most -- right after the All-Star break.
 
"Yeah, you know we're competing hard," young Travis Konecny said. "We're not going to quit until the end of the season. That's the way we are. It's the character of our team. It's the things we've shown all year.
 
"Our games may not show it at times, our scores, but I think each and every night we always compete, we always battle. I think things are starting to happen for us. Pucks are starting to bounce the right ways for us and we're getting on the score sheet and it's helping us a lot."
 
What's not helping is all those teams ahead of them, especially Boston, are posting wins. Every two points Boston gets puts another dagger in the Flyers' side.
 
"Watching what other teams are doing is more stressful," Mason said. "Teams are going to win, teams are going to lose. But we obviously have to win and that's really all that matters."