|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2006||[Print without images]|
"That was kind of a wakeup call," Briere, 28, said in a dressing-room conversation earlier this week after a Buffalo Sabres practice during the Eastern Conference finals.
|Heading into Friday's Game 4, Daniel Briere leads the Sabres in playoff scoring with seven goals and 10 assists.|
"I'm a castaway from Phoenix who got a second chance when I was traded here," Briere said. "They believed in me, gave me the responsibility on and off the ice. As players, that's all you dream of, to have more responsibility. When they told me I would share the captaincy with Chris, after everything he's done in his career, not just in the NHL, but all over, to me that said they had a lot of belief in me. For me, it's an honor to be mentioned with him, to be a leader of this team." Even in the Sabres' team picture, both Briere and Drury are wearing the "C." In games, of course, one has to wear the "A" instead. But you get the impression there never will be any debates -- whether among the Sabres, between the two centers, or even in the musing out of outsiders -- about whether this is "Drury's team" or "Briere's team." That's not an issue. The bigger the games get, the more prone Drury is to score the clutch goals, not bothered at all by the fact that the footage of a chubby kid pitching at Williamsport against young adults from Chinese Tapei has just been shown for the 1,637th time.
And Briere, completely recovered from the sports hernia that kept him out of 24 games in the regular season, is pitching in, too. "In no way do I see Chris as a threat," Briere said. "We play together on the power play. We played together a few games five-on-five, as well. For me, it's just an honor to be mentioned with him, to be a leader of the team." With San Jose out, meaning Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have exited the playoffs, the Sabres have the best remaining 1-2 center punch. "They have to match up against either Chris' or my line, if that's how they want to play," Briere said. "It's great because they can't focus on one line. I look at it like Chris helps me and I help him." Briere's terrific goal in Game 1 helped set the tone for this series, and he beat Cam Ward with a lifted backhander. After that game in Raleigh, N.C., he noted that that in "the past four, five years, I haven't scored too many on my backhand. For people who've seen my curve in my stick, I can't go on my backhand too often, so I don't know how it got up like that." After the Sabres' Game 2 road loss, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff challenged Briere's line -- he plays with Jochen Hecht and J.P. Dumont -- to pick it up. The Canes watched tape, and Briere said they again noticed that the Hurricanes "do things differently a little bit than some other teams, where they collapse hard in front of the net. They like to cut off our play behind the net, as well. We had to switch it up a little bit, change some things." There's a lot of hockey to be played in this series, of course, and the Canes proved their resilience in the first-round comeback against Montreal. It's entirely possible it could be 2-2 heading back to Carolina, but if the Sabres continue to get production out of Drury and Briere, and their lines, even in alternating games, that adds to the chances of the finals making a return trip to Buffalo. And it's not even out of line to wonder whether NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would go along with handing the Stanley Cup to the two co-captains at the same time, or if it would just be a matter of which one was wearing the "C" on the right night. That's a protocol issue the Sabres would love to tackle. Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."