Flyers' Briere hitting stride at just the right time

March, 26, 2009

Two surgeries and four comeback attempts later, Daniel Briere appears to be finally hitting his stride in the 2008-09 season.

The star forward with the Philadelphia Flyers has five points (3-2) in his past three games heading into Thursday night's tilt with the Florida Panthers. The road back has been full of potholes, including an early March comeback from his second groin surgery of the season that was also shelved after he felt a twinge. There had been failed comebacks in November and December, as well.

But a week after the early March scare, he returned yet again March 12, and this time for good. Finally.

"It's been a very trying year, a lot of frustration, but I realized that I can't really control the injuries," Briere told on Wednesday. "All I can control is my rehabilitation and when I come back. I tried to force that a little bit. With this last comeback, the first few games were tough because I haven't played a lot of games this year. We kind of took it slowly.

"But the last three games, things are starting to come back. I'm not saying I'm completely happy with my game, but more and more every game, I'm feeling more and more comfortable. So that's a good sign and I'm happy about that."

He has played in only 19 of his team's 72 games this season, but at least he's back when it matters most. The playoffs are around the corner.

"That's been my focus, especially since the last surgery in January, my focus has been on the stretch drive and the playoffs," said Briere, who is in the second season of an eight-year deal. "The best part of the season is still ahead of me."

With Briere back, the Flyers now have more depth up front.

"We have three very dangerous scoring lines that can hurt you at any given time," Briere said. "With my comeback and the emergence of [rookie] Claude Giroux, it makes us a little more complete."

The Flyers may not have the superstar stud up front like Alex Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin, but, collectively, their top eight is tough to beat in the East: Briere, Giroux, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul and Mike Knuble. That's impressive depth up front.

Briere's offensive contributions in the past few games, meanwhile, just happened to coincide with a couple of statement wins over Pittsburgh and New Jersey. The Penguins are chasing Philly for fourth in the Eastern Conference and the Devils have been the team to beat in the second half of the season, so the pair of victories did some good for Philadelphia's self-esteem.

"A huge boost for us," Briere said. "It's the right time to start playing well."

The fact is, the Flyers won't get as much mention heading into the playoffs as top seeds Boston, New Jersey and Washington. But it's Philadelphia, not those three teams, that reached the Eastern Conference finals last season against Pittsburgh.

"I think we learned a lot from last year's experience," Briere said. "Last year was new for a lot of guys. We have a quiet confidence. Not too many people are talking about us. We're just going around our business and hopefully we can surprise some people."

Canucks and cash
It's been a local story, but we think you puckheads might be interested in reading this terrific piece from Vancouver Sun hockey columnist Iain MacIntyre on the comments made by Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows that sparked quite the tempest in that market.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


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