The Philadelphia Flyers
made a big commitment to Daniel Briere
during the summer, signing him to an eight-year, big-money contract. After a disappointing regular season, he's giving them big-time production when they need it most.
Briere has been one of the key reasons the Flyers own a surprising 2-1 lead over the Washington Capitals
in their first-round playoff series. Briere had his second two-goal game of the series and added an assist in Philadelphia's 6-3 victory in Game 3. His four goals are tied for the most of any player after the first week of the playoffs, and he's had six points in three games.
Briere fell from 95 points with Buffalo in 2006-07 to 72 this season. But he's well on his way to surpassing his point-a-game pace of the last two playoff seasons – and the Flyers will need him to do that, and more, to oust the Capitals.
Five up –
Five players who've been producing in the first week of the playoffs:
Carey Price –
So much for the rookie jitters. The 20-year-old goaltender has the Montreal Canadiens
on the verge of advancing to the second round. All he's done against Boston is hold the Bruins to five goals in four games, including Tuesday's 1-0 shutout at TD Banknorth Garden.
Sean Avery –
The NHL's biggest pest also has been one of its best playoff scorers. Avery has a goal in each of the New York Rangers
' first three games against New Jersey while making a nuisance of himself to goaltender Martin Brodeur
and his teammates.
Mikko Koivu –
Koivu has been Minnesota's best player so far in its series against Colorado, scoring a goal in each of the first four games, adding an assist and doing a solid job in the faceoff circle on a team that often struggles on draws.
Ryane Clowe –
Clowe missed most of the season due to a knee problem that required surgery and rehab, but he's been San Jose's best player in the postseason, scoring four goals and setting up three more in the Sharks' first four games.
Marc-Andre Fleury –
While the Pittsburgh Penguins
have produced offensively against Ottawa, Fleury has been solid in goal. He had an opening-game shutout and overall has allowed just four goals in three games.
Five down –
Five players who need to step it up:
Alex Ovechkin –
The Philadelphia Flyers
are working overtime to make sure Ovechkin is bumped, banged and otherwise harassed, and with the exception of the third period in Game 1, when he set up the tying goal and scored the game-winner for Washington, it's worked. Ovechkin has been held to a single assist in the last two games; not coincidentally, the Caps have lost both games. They can't win without "The Great 8" playing, well, great.
Marian Gaborik –
Minnesota's top gun had a career season (42 goals), but he's been invisible so far during the playoffs, going pointless in four games.
Dany Heatley –
It's been a tough postseason for Ottawa, and especially for Heatley, the only member of the "Pizza Line" who isn't out with an injury or battling one. He only has one assist in three games and a -3 rating — and it was his four-minute penalty Monday that put the final nail in the Senators' chances in Game 3.
Christopher Higgins –
Montreal's play in the playoffs thus far has overshadowed a lack of production from Higgins. The second-line left wing hasn't had a point in four games, something that's unacceptable for a player who sees the amount and quality of ice time Higgins gets.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere –
Giguere got off to a tough start in Anaheim's first-round series with Dallas, allowing four power-play goals in the opener and five goals in a Game 2 loss – though he was better in the Ducks' 4-2 win in Game 3. It was something of a shock, considering his .922 regular-season save percentage led full-time goalies in the regular season.
Injuries, news and notes –
It's official: No one has played in more NHL playoff games than Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios
. He passed Patrick Roy
's League record when he played in postseason game No. 248 Saturday; assuming he suits up Wednesday, he'll be playing in his 250th postseason contest.
Minnesota forward Branko Radivojevic
sat out Monday's 3-2 overtime win in Game 3 and was out again for Game 4 with what's suspected to be a knee injury. He was injured in Game 2 Friday. The Wild also lost forward Mark Parrish
with a concussion in Game 1 against Colorado; there's no timetable for his return. … Pittsburgh forward Gary Roberts
missed Monday night's game against Ottawa with a groin pull. Roberts missed much of the season with a broken leg, but had two goals in Game 1. … Nashville lost forward Scott Nichol
for its series against Detroit when he broke his thumb in Game 1. He had surgery and likely will be sidelined for at least two more weeks. … Anaheim forward Rob Niedermayer
missed Tuesday's Game 3 against Dallas with an upper-body injury. … Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen
left Tuesday's Game 3 against Washington when he was slammed into the net and appeared to hurt his right arm, though the Flyers say it's an upper-body injury.
Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson
made a stunning comeback for Game 3 against Pittsburgh; he sustained knee, neck and head injuries in an April 2 hit by Toronto's Mark Bell
and wasn't expected to play in the series. The Senators still are without centers Mike Fisher
(knee) and Chris Kelly
(broken leg). … Philadelphia defenseman Derian Hatcher
, out since mid-March with a broken leg, returned for Game 3 against Washington on Tuesday. Forward Patrick Thoresen
was back in the lineup as well after leaving Game 1 in the third period when he was hit in the groin by a slap shot. … San Jose defenseman Christian Ehrhoff
, out with a lower-body injury since April 1, skated in a full practice Monday and played Tuesday at Calgary. … Nashville got a boost with the return of center David Legwand
, who missed five weeks with a badly bruised foot. He returned Monday and scored a goal while going plus-3. … Washington defenseman Jeff Schultz
returned to the lineup Sunday against the Flyers after missing Game 1 with an undisclosed injury. … Boston defenseman Dennis Wideman
was back in the lineup Sunday after missing Game 2 Saturday with a lower torso injury.
Still out –
Washington captain Chris Clark
is skating again, but won't play in the next two games against Philadelphia. He's been out for much of the season with a groin problem, but would like to play before the series with the Flyers ends, though how effective he'd be is another question. … Boston's Patrice Bergeron
had hoped to get a neurologist's OK to play in Game 4 against Montreal after missing most of the season with a concussion. He didn't get the clearance, so he's still out. … Dallas defenseman Sergei Zubov
is skating, but not with teammates, as he works to come back from sports hernia surgery. There's no timetable for his return. … Anaheim forward Corey Perry
says he's not feeling pain anymore in his surgically repaired right quad, but he's still not ready to return. … Montreal captain Saku Koivu
is on track to resume skating this week. He's been out since late March with a broken bone in his foot. … Minnesota defenseman Nick Schultz
has been skating with teammates, but isn't ready to play as he recovers from an emergency appendectomy on the eve of the playoffs. … Rangers forward Colton Orr
is still sidelined with a broken toe that has kept him off the ice for seven games.
The week ahead –
One way or another, the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs will end April 22. The schedule for the second round will depend on how many opening-round series go the distance.
Games to watch:
New Jersey at New York Rangers
(April 16) – The road team has won all three games in this series, a trend the Devils hope will continue in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden.
Pittsburgh at Ottawa
(April 16) –
The Penguins will take the ice at Scotiabank Place as the only team in the East with the opportunity to sweep its opening-round series.
Boston at Montreal
(April 17) –
The Bell Centre will be rocking as the Canadiens try to eliminate the Bruins from the playoffs for the 24th time.
Dallas at Anaheim
(April 18) –
The Stars and Ducks finish a home-and-home in two nights with a game at the Honda Center, where Dallas won the first two games of the series.
San Jose at Calgary
(April 20) –
Either the Sharks or Flames will be going for the clincher at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
Tough stretch ahead:
Thursday's game at the Xcel Energy Center will be the third in four nights in this series, which features a thin Minnesota defensive corps and several key Colorado players who are well over 30.
Anaheim assured itself of at least a fifth game by winning Tuesday. After Game 4 Thursday, the teams play the next night in Anaheim, with Game 6 in Dallas on Sunday if needed.
Philadelphia Washington –
Talk about ending with an endurance test: Games 5, 6 and 7 are scheduled for Saturday, Monday and Tuesday (though the travel isn't bad). If this one goes seven, the winner will have earned the series victory.
Easy stretch ahead:
New York Rangers-New Jersey –
The intensity of this series is ferocious, but the scheduling (no back-to-backs, two-day break between Games 3 and 4) and travel (no teams in any sport that don't share a building are closer) make things a little easier.
No back-to-backs (Wednesday-Friday-Sunday-Tuesday), and the travel, by Western Conference standards, isn't bad.
Pittsburgh Penguins –
If the Pens can win Game 4 or 5 to close out their series with Ottawa, they can take the weekend off and wait to see who they'll play in the second round.