Philadelphia, PA – When the Philadelphia Flyers signed Danny Briere to an eight-year, $52 million contract in the summer of 2007, they were getting a player coming off a 95-point regular season with the Buffalo Sabres.
Although Briere hasn't come close to duplicating his 2006-07 campaign during his tenure with the Flyers, you won't hear the Philadelphia front office or the team's fans complain about the diminutive forward's lack of production in the regular season.
That's because Briere is busy putting together one of the finest playoff resumes in the history of the franchise, and possibly the NHL.
Briere recorded two goals, including the overtime game-winner, in Philadelphia's 4-3 win over New Jersey in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday. It was his third two-goal game of the 2012 postseason, giving him seven goals -- the same amount as Philadelphia superstar Claude Giroux -- and 10 points in seven playoff contests this spring.
All told, Briere has 49 goals and 106 points in 104 career playoff games, making him just one of 19 players in NHL history to average over a point per game while playing in at least 100 postseason contests. The list includes all- time NHL legends like Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux as well as Briere's current teammate Jaromir Jagr, who leads all active NHLers with 188 points in 176 career playoff games.
The difference between Briere's production in the regular season and the playoffs is staggering. With 280 goals and 643 points in 813 career tests in the regular season, Briere's points-per-game average for his career is a respectable 0.79. However, that number jumps up to 1.02 ppg in the playoffs and Briere has been even more dangerous during his stint in Philadelphia, where he has recorded 36 goals and 69 points in 64 playoff tilts (1.08 ppg).
Over his last three postseasons, Briere has potted 26 goals in 41 games and he set a Flyers' record for points in a playoff year when he helped lead Philadelphia to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 23 games.
In Philadelphia's opening-round upset of the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was Giroux who deservedly garnered the headlines after setting a club record with 14 points in a single series. However, even with Giroux dominating the Pens, Briere managed to post five goals and three assists in the six contests against Pittsburgh.
Giroux had some fun on Sunday when asked about Briere's ability to score at will in the playoffs.
"Does he? I haven't noticed. I didn't see him on the ice today" Giroux quipped.
"He's been doing it his whole career. He is clutch," Giroux added.
For hockey fans, the burning question is this: How is Briere able to raise his game to such a higher level come playoff time?
There was a time when Briere's success in the playoffs could be explained away as a statistical anomaly, but when a player has skated in 100-plus postseason games, we're no longer dealing with a small sample size.
Generously listed at 5-foot-9, 179 pounds, Briere makes up for his lack of size with tremendous stickhandling ability that allows him to deliver goal after goal from in close. In the postseason, when things break down in the area in front of the crease, perhaps it's Briere's superior hands that allows him to stay calm amid the chaos and deliver the big goals.
His movement without the puck is also something that ensures Briere will get open for chance after chance. In fact, minutes before Briere potted the game- winner against the Devils on Sunday, he was able to put the puck in the net from the left side of the crease, setting off a premature overtime celebration. Briere clearly kicked that one in and the goal was correctly reversed.
"I thought I was trying to stop and it bounced off my skate, but looking at the replay, it's a little obvious. They made the right call on the that," Briere said.
While many players would have to wait a long time for another chance at a playoff OT game-winner, a determined Briere made his own break at the 4:36 mark of overtime. This time, he unleashed a slap shot from the point -- well outside his usual scoring zone -- that beat a screened Martin Brodeur.
Briere's road to success in this current postseason also has been paved by opposing teams having to focus their defensive energies on Giroux's top line, which also includes Jagr and Scott Hartnell on the wings. That normally leaves Briere, who is currently flanked on the wings by James Van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek, with an easier defensive assignment, as head coaches are forced to pick their poison.
Interestingly, Briere doesn't seem to think it's his ability to play under pressure that makes him excel in the playoffs. Many athletes love to boast about their own ability to deliver under pressure, but Briere has a different take.
"It's not really pressure. It's actually a fun time, exciting time," Briere said after his Game 1 performance against the Devils.
It makes sense. After all, when a player scores as often as Briere does in the playoffs, why wouldn't they be fun?