Exactly one player meets those criteria — a little forward who has a knack for scoring clutch goals. His name is Daniel Brière.
Even though Brière's four 30-goal seasons are well behind him — the last came in 2010-11 — he hasn't slowed down come the spring time. After racking up 30 points in 23 games while helping the Philadelphia Flyers reach the Stanley Cup final in 2010, he added 22 points in 22 outings in the next two post-seasons.
Problem is, Brière’s stay in Montreal thus far has been quite the roller-coaster ride. And it seems like recently, the cart began its descent so fast, even La Ronde or Canada Wonderland’s biggest coaster enthusiasts would walk away and line up for cotton candy instead.
Twice in the last four games, Brière has played fewer than 10 minutes, victimized by Lars Eller and Brian Gionta’s growing chemistry.
The 36-year old forward was back among the top nine forwards on Wednesday, however, as Eller was a late scratch due to a virus. Despite his line playing relatively well in the first two frames, Brière was benched for the last nine minutes of the game after turning the puck over in his own zone on a soft pass through the middle of the ice. The Blackhawks didn’t score, but had three straight quality shots and could have tied the game.
In a season where it seems like he’s being kept on a much shorter leash than the likes of Eller, Rene Bourque and even, earlier on, David Desharnais, that was one mistake too many for the veteran forward.
All is not lost, however, for Brière. Alex Galchenyuk left Wednesday’s game in the first period. Although head coach Michel Therrien was coy on his young forward’s status, Galchenyuk was seen walking on crutches after the game.
Should Galchenyuk be ruled out for the start of the playoffs, what are Therrien’s options in the top nine?
- Michaël Bournival: Highly productive in the first couple of months, he ended a 37-game scoring drought on Saturday. Despite playing well defensively, he hasn’t looked anywhere near as dominant as he did early this season.
- Dale Weise: Returned from an upper-body injury Wednesday, has three goals in his last six games. He’s never been used regularly in a third-line role in the NHL, though.
All three of these options are much better fits on a fourth line than on a third, while Brière is everything but a fourth-liner. The post-season is no time to try to fit a square peg into a round hole.
On top of being a solid playoff performer, Brière has also proved to be effective in the clutch this season. Despite scoring only 13 goals thus far, seven of those have come in the third period, a total only bested by four teammates. In addition, seven times he either tied a game or scored the go-ahead goal. Only once did he score when his team was leading or trailing by more than two goals.
For all those reasons, Brière deserves at the very least a look in an offensive role to start the playoffs. There’s a reason why Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin last summer agreed to sign him to an $8-million deal for two seasons.
Speaking of that, a good Brière playoff run would complete a near-perfect winter for Bergevin. Highly criticized last fall when David Desharnais and newcomers Brière, Douglas Murray and George Parros were struggling, the Habs’ GM has looked much better lately. Recent acquisitions Weise, Thomas Vanek and Mike Weaver picked up their games, while Desharnais is worth every penny of his $3.5-million cap hit.
This week's stats
35-0-3 — The Canadiens’ record when leading after two periods. While a .921 winning percentage in that situation places Montreal fifth in the NHL, it also hides some close calls, like the three-goal lead it wasted last Saturday against the Red Wings before scoring two quick ones to escape with the win.
2 — Times in their last 10 games that the Habs outshot their opponents. They still went 8-1-1 during that stretch, but advanced-stats aficionados will surely frown upon those numbers.
265 — Man-games lost by the Canadiens to injuries this season, as of April 10. The number sure looks big, but let’s not forget that 100 of those games belong to role players David Drewiske, George Parros and Ryan White