Having faced the Pittsburgh Penguins twice before in his five seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, Danny Briere knew what he and his teammates would be facing when the Flyers opened 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Penguins.
That's why Briere talked to linemate Wayne Simmonds and said they had to "take charge" and help rookie linemate Brayden Schenn pick up the pace of the playoffs.
They could have saved the effort.
Schenn figured it out fast, single-handedly helping the Flyers climb out of a 3-0 first-period hole in Game 1, setting up the first two goals and then skating through the slot to tip a Scott Hartnell shot past Marc-Andre Fleury for the game-tying goal with 7:37 left in regulation. The Flyers ended up winning that game 4-3 in overtime, and taking the series in six games.
"Brayden stepped up right from the first game and played a strong game, scored a huge goal," Briere told NHL.com. "From then he never looked back."
Schenn played a solid role in the Flyers' series victory, totaling two goals and four assists, and providing a physical element that saw him finish second on the team with 19 hits in the series.
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"Obviously everyone is nervous at the start [of the playoffs], but once you get into it, you get into a groove, you get the feel of things, it's a lot of fun," Schenn told NHL.com. "There's a lot of intensity and emotion that goes into every game and every shift. It's a lot of fun to be part of."
Fun is something that came at a premium for the highly regarded rookie forward. Acquired in June from the Los Angeles Kings as part of the Mike Richards trade, Schenn was expected to go from best prospect outside the NHL to top-six forward. However, he injured his shoulder in a preseason game and was sent to Adirondack of the American Hockey League to start the season. He was recalled five games into the regular season, but four games in he broke his left foot blocking a shot against the Montreal Canadiens and missed a month.
After a three-game AHL conditioning stint, he returned to the Flyers on Dec. 2, but played just two games before sustaining a concussion that sidelined him for seven games. He got back into the lineup Dec. 27, and played the final 48 games. He scored his first NHL goal against the Rangers in the 2012 Winter Classic, and had 12 goals and six assists the rest of the way.
"I wiped out that first half of the season, that frustrating start," Schenn said. "Lavi [coach Peter Laviolette] gave me a good opportunity to play with great players."
Schenn played center and wing with just about every other forward on the team before finally finding a home at left wing, with Briere in the middle and Simmonds on the right side. That line provided an outstanding second scoring unit to complement the team's top line of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr.
"Danny is a guy that's good down low, behind the net, and he's quick, can make plays and he's scoring," Schenn said. "[Simmonds] is a big body. … We all bring something different to the table, which makes it a good match."
Briere said he's grown to love playing with Schenn because of their similarities.
"I love playing with him because we play kind of that … we both play center, we both play the wing and we're interchangeable," Briere said. "Doesn't matter who is in the position first, he will play there and the other guy [will go to the other spot]. You can't do that with anybody. There's players that would have a hard time playing that game because they like to have a specific role and to know where they need to be on the ice. Brayden is smart enough as a hockey player to read and react, know when it's time to play the wing, when it's time to play center. It's tougher [for the opposition] to match up, and when we take faceoffs for the team, I'm a righty, he's a lefty, so we're always on our strong side, so that's an advantage there. I love that part of our line to start with.
Center - PHI
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 6
SOG: 6 | +/-: -3
"And on top of that, he can score, he can pass, the way he has elevated his physical play in the playoffs, that's impressed me a lot. He can play a very grinding game, as well. He adapts to the situation because he has the skill to play any kind of game. That's a huge asset he has."
Briere also enjoys Schenn because he sees Schenn traveling the same path he took. Both were first-round draft picks (Briere was taken by Phoenix No. 24 in 1996, Schenn No. 4 by Los Angeles in 2009). Both had a rough time developing into full-time NHL players, and both were traded early in their careers.
"I try to put myself in his shoes," Briere said. "It was kind of the same thing for me. There was a lot of expectations, there's lots of pressure coming in. Sometimes it takes a little longer. I kind of went through the same thing early in my career."
It took Briere being traded to Buffalo during the 2002-03 season -- his sixth -- before he finally found his stride. It doesn't look like it will take Schenn nearly that long to find his.
"The way he played in the second half [of 2011-12] and the way he has elevated his play in the playoffs is something that is very, very, very encouraging for the Flyers organization," Briere said.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK