MONTREAL – After a two-game exodus, Daniel Briere proved that he was the hero this city deserves.
The game’s first omen was the unexpected presence of a stray bat in the cavernous Bell Centre. The creature struggled to find its way around the arena and almost collided with the Senators’ Colin Greening during the pre-game warm-up. With the bat still circling the ice at the start of the game, things quickly took a turn for the worse for the Habs. By the end of the first period, the home team struggled to keep up with the Senators’ transition game despite spending over six minutes of the initial frame on the power play and found itself down 3-1.
However, the Canadiens’ offense was about to get a jolt from a player who started the week on the outside looking in. Daniel Briere’s return to the line up on Saturday was only assured when reliable fourth-line pivot Ryan White was unable to go after suffering an upper-body injury against the Dallas Stars. Skating on a line with veteran Travis Moen and youngster Michael Bounival in the first period, Briere out-hustled the Ottawa defense and scored his team’s only goal of the frame, his sixth of the season. An off-season acquisition who boasts a well-garnished NHL resume, the mild-mannered Gatineau native saw the goal as a turning point.
“The pass came to me and I tried to force it a bit too much. When you’re nervous, you’re afraid to make a mistake. Maybe I should have buried the puck on the first attempt, but at least I was able to get a second chance right away. Getting the goal helped me settle down and it was easier to make things happen after that,” confessed Briere, who has battled injury and demotions throughout the first half of the 2013-14 season. Fortunately for him, the Canadiens’ coaching staff would make a pivotal move during the first intermission.
“Briere’s compete level was very high tonight, which is what we ask of him,” acknowleged coach Michel Therrien. “The way that Briere was working, we knew that good things were going to happen.” With that, the same man who saw it fit to keep Briere in the press box in the past two games gave the savvy veteran a promotion, slotting him alongside Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta for the remainder of the game. After a seesaw second period which went scoreless for both team, the move would pay off in a big way early in the third frame.
With just under two minutes elapsed in the third, Briere struck again with the help of Plekanec and Douglas Murray, who recorded his first points as a Hab by assisting on the team’s first two goals. Then, three minutes later, Briere and Plekanec combined to set up Brian Gionta within an arm’s length of Craig Anderson’s net, knotting the game at three goals apiece.
“Chemistry is hard to explain sometimes. But you need to be talented, and to compete in order to have success,” mused Michel Therrien, who saw his gamble of uniting his three most experienced scorers on the same unit quickly pay dividends, to his relief.
Post-game analysis reveals more than what the eye could see in the heat of the game. Most of the line’s 14 shots on net came within a twenty-foot radius of the Ottawa net, key real estate for those looking to find the twine. Plekanec’s vision, Gionta’s reflexes and Briere’s silky-soft hands allowed the three men to work as one, creating offensive chances which are never easy to come by at the pro level.
“What helped was the fact that I had already played ten or twelve games with these guys and that we had some success in the past. I knew good things were about to happen when I was given this chance. Sometimes you just have a good feeling,” offered number 48. “We had many chances to score and could have gotten goals on a number of occasions. As a line we were around the opposing net very often.”
“I thought that’s when we started to play [in the third period]. We really made a good push in the 3rd period: we forced their defense, forged turnovers and were able to sustain pressure,” remarked Gionta after the game. The Habs’ captain finished the game with five shots, tied with linemate Plekanec for the team lead.
With the game headed to overtime, a questionable cross-checking penalty assessed to P.K. Subban with 18 seconds left in regulation gave Ottawa a four-on-three man advantage to open the extra frame. Clarke MacArthur drilled a wrist shot past a screened Carey Price to give the Senators a first win at the Bell Centre in its past five tries, but the home crowd still gave a thundering ovation to Daniel Briere, the game’s first star.
“There’s no doubt it feel good to put points up and help the team, but it’s still disappointing that we lost the game,” admitted Briere in the locker room. “Still, I’ve been thinking about this kind of a night for a while. You’re always telling yourself that it will happen. That’s the attitude I bring to each game, but when it does happen there’s no doubt that it’s a great feeling.”
As for the night’s uninvited guest, Briere hopes that it can serve as a harbinger of things to come, an avatar for his redemption.
“I hope that the bat will make its home here, permanently,” he laughed.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com
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