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Canadiens' Briere relishes run toward Stanley Cup

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Quebec -- Daniel Briere has reached the stage in his career when he's a role player. He knows it. He accepts it.

Briere is one of the top Stanley Cup Playoff performers of his generation, perhaps of all time, but he has been relegated to fourth-line center for the Montreal Canadiens in their run to the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers.

Game 1 is at Bell Centre on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).

Briere provides coach Michel Therrien with instant offense off the bench and an edge in the matchup with virtually any opposing fourth line. There aren't too many teams that can afford to have a player with Briere's skill set at the bottom of the lineup, a role he plays without complaint because he has his eyes on the Stanley Cup, which he hasn't won during his 17 NHL seasons.

"Look, I'm at a different stage of my career," Briere said after practice Friday. "I don't have 10 years left. I don't have a Cup, obviously. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get one.

"So that's part of the challenge for me, to stay ready."

Briere, 36, does not play much in the third period when the Canadiens are leading, a position they've held a lot in these playoffs. Therrien will often put another center with Briere's linemates, Brandon Prust and Dale Weise, when he is trying to protect a lead, but when he needs a goal, he's not afraid to call on Briere.

In the Canadiens' win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Boston Bruins, Briere had played one shift in the third period when Johnny Boychuk was called for interference at 15:29 with Montreal leading 2-1. That's when Therrien turned to Briere, and Briere delivered, scoring when his centering pass hit Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara's skate and slid behind goalie Tuukka Rask to give Montreal a 3-1 lead.

"I knew I probably wouldn't see the ice much with the lead, but if the Bruins tie it up or if we get a power play, I might get a chance to go," Briere said. "So just try to find a way to stay involved in the game or focused on the game and not get loopy and out of the game. That was a challenge, and it worked out."

In spite of the limited usage, and being a healthy scratch in Game 5 against the Bruins, Briere is producing. With six points in 10 games in his first postseason with the Canadiens, Briere has 115 points in 118 playoff games.

One thing Briere can provide the Canadiens, aside from skill on the fourth line, is playoff experience and the perspective to know that as close as they are to the ultimate goal there is a lot of work left to do. Briere has made the Eastern Conference Final four times but played in one Stanley Cup Final, with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, eliminating the Canadiens in the conference final to get there before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.

"The only thing I would tell the guys is not to think about the Stanley Cup Final, not to look at who we might play in the Final," Briere said. "Right now, that doesn't mean anything, and it's useless. We have an opponent we need to respect in front of us, a tough opponent. That's all that matters right now."

Among his vast library of playoff experiences, there is one in particular Briere can draw from in the situation the Canadiens find themselves in today.

Briere was with the Flyers in 2012 when they played a memorably intense and nasty first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It featured myriad goals and fights, displaying all the emotion that makes the playoffs so compelling.

It was kind of like the series the Canadiens just finished against the Bruins.

Once the Flyers defeated the Penguins in six games, however, they lost to the New Jersey Devils in five games because they struggled to find that same level of energy, emotion and motivation they had against the Penguins.

"The Devils weren't reacting to anything," Briere said. "We would hit them, and they would turn their backs and skate away, a bit like we did to the Bruins. We didn't know how to react because we were still looking for that emotion, and a bit like we did to the Bruins, the Devils got us off our game."

Briere wants to be sure the same thing does not happen to the Canadiens, who do not have anywhere near the same level of rivalry with the Rangers as they do with the Bruins.

"I expect the Rangers to be a much more disciplined team [than the Bruins]," he said. "That's the challenge for us, to respond well."

Even without that rivalry with the Rangers, Briere's linemates shouldn't have trouble getting motivated for the series.

Weise and Prust played for the Rangers, and Prust was a fan favorite at Madison Square Garden when he left to sign with Montreal as an unrestricted free agent in 2012.

Though he has friends on the Rangers, Prust is singularly focused on ending their season.

"I was definitely, deep down, kind of pulling for this matchup," Prust said. "It will be good to go back to New York and to MSG. You want to continue our run and stop their run.

"That would be the sweetest thing."

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