By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Danny Briere kept telling himself to block it out. The NHL veteran thought he had the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 1 of the Flyers’ Eastern Conference semifinal game against the New Jersey Devils, only to have the score overturned when it showed Briere kicked the puck into the net.
Okay, Briere thought, I’ll get another chance. He did. A few minutes later, he fired home the game-winning goal for a 4-3 Flyers’ overtime victory on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center. It was Briere’s fourth career overtime playoff-winning goal.
The teams return to the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday for Game 2 of the best-of-seven series with Philadelphia holding a 1-0 lead.
The Flyers’ playoff games, however, seem to take a familiar theme: Play lousy in the first period and yield the first goal, then gradually build momentum and take over.
That template was followed down to the letter in Game 1 against the Devils. After surrendering the first goal, and a tenuous first 10 minutes, the Flyers built steam, with Briere’s sudden-death goal the exclamation point.
It looked as if Briere had won the game with a goal with 17:47 left into overtime. But the referees saw—and it was blatant to see—that Briere had kicked the puck into the net.
“I was fortunate to get another break,” Briere said. “So far it’s been fun. I was saying earlier I grew up watching playoff hockey and when I was a kid I dreamed about playing in those big games. It’s why you try to make the best of it and try to enjoy it as much as possible. So it’s not really pressure.”
As for the first-period doldrums that continue to plague the Flyers, Briere, like his teammates, continue to be baffled.
“It’s not a surprise with the way we played in the first period,” Briere said. “You guys have been asking us all week if it was going to be a problem. It was a problem early on. There’s so much intensity in playoff hockey and sitting back for a week and not being in the mood, I guess, kind of set us back a little bit. Jersey had come off a huge win and they were in that same mind frame and they came out swinging.”
The Devils had a great chance to score themselves a few minutes after Briere kicked the puck, when there was a mad scramble in front of the Flyers’ net. But the Devils couldn’t get a stick on the loose puck and it slid harmlessly wide of the net.
Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur, a week away from turning 40, was his usual splendid self. All Max Talbot could do was mouth his frustration in the first period at Brodeur’s brilliance. The Flyers’ forward had the whole side of an open net, or so he thought. Then the old man’s glove snatched away what appeared to be a shot headed to the net twine.
Brodeur has forged a Hall of Fame career making saves like that in the NHL playoffs, and he proved he isn’t too past his prime to make the occasional sensational save as he did the Talbot shot inside the first five minutes of the second period.
Brodeur was instrumental in keeping New Jersey in the game with more big saves, most notably in the third period on a hard-rushing James van Riemsdyk. A sprawling Brodeur made the save on his blocker, then had his mask jarred loose. When the referees whistled a stoppage, the legend playfully stuck out his tongue as if to say, “Whew, I lucked out there.”
The Flyers answered a first-period Zach Parise goal with a pair of second-period goals from Briere and van Riemsdyk. Though it was a rare Brodeur blunder that led to van Riemsdyk’s goal. Brodeur blindly threw out an errant pass from behind the net that was intercepted by a converging Erik Gustafsson, whose shot bounced off Brodeur right back to van Riemsdyk, who drove home the rebound for the 2-1 go-ahead goal.
After Travis Zajac tied the game almost midway into the second period at 2-2, Claude Giroux looked as if he might have had the game-winner with slightly over four minutes into the third period.
But New Jersey’s Petr Sykora answered with the tying goal on a shot that slid between Flyers’ goalie Ilya Bryzgalov’s pads and over the goal line. The Flyers dominated the third period, outshooting New Jersey 15-4. Over the second and third periods, the Flyers outshot the Devils by a combined 23-7.
Bryzgalov was uneven at best. He made some nice saves early on when the Flyers didn’t have their legs and were struggling. But when Sykora came bearing down on him in the third period, Bryzgalov didn’t help himself by putting his stick out and not protecting the space between his pads. It’s an opening Sykora targeted and nailed for the tying 3-3 goal that shoved the game into overtime.