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Briere shakes off first year in Philly, shines in first games of playoffs @NHLdotcom

VOORHEES, N.J. - Danny Briere expects a different kind of reaction than the one he heard his last playoff series in Philadelphia.

In that one, Briere played for the enemy Buffalo Sabres. The boos were expected two years ago. When he heard them again during a mid-season slump in his first season in Philadelphia, well, the Flyers centre was caught by surprise.

"You don't really expect it," Briere said before the playoffs. "You think they should be trying to help me out, they should be on my side. But I kind of realized that's the way it is. As soon as things start to change, they're the first ones to support you and be in your corner."

That two-month stretch where Briere admittedly lost confidence is history. So is a goaless drought that briefly earned him some boos - also known as the official sound of Philadelphia - from impatient fans.

Briere's first season in Philly after signing an eight-year, $52 million contract was a bit uneven, but he scored two goals in Game 1 against Washington to give him hope that he'll prove his worth in the playoffs.

Briere shook off a knee injury that cost him the final two games of the regular season and nearly led the Flyers to a Game 1 win until Alex Ovechkin scored the tiebreaking goal in Washington's 5-4 win. Flyers goalie Martin Biron made 24 saves in a 2-0 win on Sunday to even the series at one win each. Game 3 is Tuesday night in Philadelphia.

"We were a very complacent team," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said on Monday. "They made us look complacent. They were very good."

All the focus on this series was on likely NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin and how the Flyers would try and stop him. Briere started without much hype, understandable considering his numbers were dwarfed by the Captials star.

Briere had 31 goals and 72 points for the Flyers this season, but that minus-22 and only two goals in February when they started a freefall in the Eastern Conference standings put some pressure on the big free-agent centrepiece of their rebuilding effort. It didn't help that a season-ending injury to Simon Gagne (concussion) busted a successful line and Briere had trouble finding the right chemistry with other forwards.

"I do think he was pressing offensively," coach John Stevens said on Monday. "Now, he doesn't just think of the game offensively. He's an extremely good worker without the puck. He's playing his best hockey of the year without the puck and I think that's contributing to what he can do with the puck."

All it took was one trade deadline deal to turn Briere's season around. The Flyers acquired high-scoring forward Vaclav Prospal from Tampa Bay and he and Briere immediately clicked.

Briere recalled in their very first practice together, Prospal skated along the boards and dropped him a no-look pass. Somehow, Prospal just knew Briere was nearby.

"I got really excited," Briere said. "I said, 'Wow, there could be something there."'

Briere finished with a flourish, including a two-goal game against the Rangers and nine points in his final six games before he was injured against Pittsburgh. Briere is generously listed as 5-foot-10 and has always used knocks about his size as motivation to prove he can play with the big boys.

"I like proving people wrong," he said. "It's the same here. When I had a tough time, a lot of people were questioning my abilities or if I was strong enough to play here. I tried to turn that into a positive and tried to use that as a positive for motivation."

Now Briere can't wait to find out what it means to win a series in Philadelphia instead of being the one who sends the Flyers packing.

"After the big win last night, I just can't wait to see how crazy the fans here are in the playoffs," he said.

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