(Montreal, Quebec) - Growing up in the province of Quebec, it's nights like the one Danny Briere
and Simon Gagne will experience on Thursday that they used to dream about as children.
The French-Canadian stars will take the Bell Centre ice in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals as members of the Philadelphia Flyers, who hold a 2-0 lead in this best-of-7 series. Even though neither will be cheered for by the capacity crowd on, it certainly won't make the experience any less special.
"Obviously, I grew up a Montreal Canadiens fan," said Briere, who hails from Gatineau, Que. "To come back in this building is always a little easier motivation, I guess. The history of the team … we have all of our family and friends watching from even closer now. It makes it easier to find that motivation."
|Philadelphia Flyers' Simon Gagne, right, checks Montreal Canadiens' Roman Hamrlik, of Czech Republic, in the second period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Eastern Conference finals, Tuesday, May 18, 2010, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) |
Thursday marks the second time in three postseasons that the Flyers have faced the Canadiens. Philadelphia eliminated Montreal in five games in the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals in a series Gagne was forced to miss due to an injury.
But Gagne is healthy enough to play this time around -- and the Flyers haven't lost since he returned from a foot injury in time for Game 4 of Philadelphia's historic second-round series win against the Bruins which saw the Flyers win four straight games after dropping the first three.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Gagne, a Ste. Foy, Que., native. "In my case, it's my first time playing against the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs. Two years ago, we had a chance to come here and play them. I was hurt, so I was unable to get the feeling of what it is to face the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs, especially here in Montreal. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's going to be really fun. I have a lot of family and friends coming to the game."
Briere was healthy and 2008 and played a big role for the Flyers that postseason. In 17 playoff games, the highly-skilled forward had 9 goals and 7 assists. Philadelphia beat Montreal but lost in the conference finals to Pittsburgh.
Now, he's back -- and fully prepared for what's coming from the capacity crowd at the Bell Centre.
"We all know about all the boos that has been going on the past few years," Briere said on Wednesday afternoon. "That's extra motivation when you jump on the ice. As soon as I found out that we were playing Montreal, I got real excited about it. I've always said I wanted to experience what it was to play against Montreal (in the playoffs) at least once in my career. This is my second chance. I'm just grateful for the chance to play here in the playoffs."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette certainly can appreciate the excitement level of both Briere and Gagne having a chance to play Stanley Cup Playoff games in Montreal. The focus, however, must be on the task at hand.
"I hope that they're excited," Laviolette said. "I hope they play great with lots of energy. I'm sure they're excited coming back here to play, but the focus is on a win."
That's all Philadelphia has done since Gagne returned to the lineup. The former first-round draft choice (1998) has brought tremendous balance to the Flyers since his return and scored another big goal on Tuesday night in the team's 3-0 win against the Canadiens in Game 2.
Overall, Gagne has 9 points (6 goals, 3 assists) in 10 games this postseason.
"We all saw the goals over the last few games," Briere said. "Against Boston, we were 0-3 when he wasn't playing and 6-0 since he's back in the lineup. Yes, he's scored some big goals. But it's more than that. Just his presence in the lineup changes everything. We were having that discussion when he was just about to come back. I was trying to convince him at first, even if you can't play, just to sit on the bench just to have his presence there. You add a player like that to your lineup, it changes everything. It makes everyone a lot more dangerous all of a sudden."
Even though they failed to score, the Canadiens looked extremely dangerous in the opening period on Tuesday night. They peppered Michael Leighton with 16 shots, but the Flyers' goaltender managed to record his second straight shutout and extended his remarkable streak to 165:50.
But Philadelphia can't possibly expect Leighton to do this alone.
"We have to realize that if we play the same way, it's not going to be good enough," Briere said. "We have to realize that. We all know. I fully expect us to come out a little harder."