When Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin signed center Daniel Briere to a two-year, $8 million free-agent contract in July, one of the first arguments he made in favor of the move was Briere's tremendous history of being a peak performer in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Briere is one of the top playoff players ever, his 1.01 points per game average in the postseason ranking him 44th all-time, according to hockey-reference.com. It is a significantly higher number than his average of 0.75 points per game over his 916 career regular-season games.
If Briere knows why this is the case, he's not sharing it.
"I wish I knew," Briere said. "I wish I had a clear explanation other than wanting to be the difference-maker every night. I don't really know how to explain it."
Briere has not been one of coach Michel Therrien's most trusted players, spending time on each of the four forward lines at various points of the season, and currently slated to begin the playoffs on the Canadiens' fourth line with Michael Bournival and Dale Weise. Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning is scheduled for Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC, RDS) at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Briere began training camp playing with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty on what was hoped would be Montreal's top line, but Briere was quickly bounced to one with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta.
When that didn't work, Briere was unable to establish a permanent home for himself in the lineup and he was even bounced out as a healthy scratch on a few occasions.
Briere, 36, had a difficult season as a result with 25 points in 69 games, his lowest point-per-game total since his rookie season with the Phoenix Coyotes in 1998-99 and the third straight season his average production has declined.
Based on where he was playing at practice on Tuesday, Briere will start Game 1 of Montreal's Eastern Conference First Round series against the Lightning centering Bournival and Weise. He will likely see time on the second power play with Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher, but if Briere is going to be a difference-maker in the series, he may have to do it with limited minutes at even strength.
"That's out of my control," Briere said after practice Monday, before he knew he would be skating on the fourth line Tuesday. "I don't know what's going to happen. Michel is there to coach, that's his job. My job is to be ready whenever that opportunity comes."
And if it does come, Briere vows to be ready.
"To me, when I prepare for the playoffs, what I'm thinking is I want to be the guy that makes the big play," he said. "I want the puck when the game's on the line. That's the way I prepare for the game. It's not about thinking as a playoff performer, like I'm better than anyone. I'm just approaching the game as if I'm going to make that play that's going to turn it around. That's basically all it is."
Bergevin touted Briere's ability to raise his game in the playoffs, and if he's able to do that he'll likely erase the memory of what has been a tough first season in Montreal.