Briere stands out, Backlund doesn't in preseason finale


Danny Briere showed glimpses of his old self tonight at the Wachovia Center, scoring a goal during the game and the shootout, but it wasn't enough as the Minnesota Wild beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4.

The loss was essentially on the back of goaltender Johan Backlund. Playing the second half of the game in relief of Ray Emery, Backlund allowed three of the four Wild goals, two of which were clearly his fault. He looked even worse in the shootout, stopping just one of four Minnesota attempts. But given that Backlund probably won't be staying with the big club long and thus won't be playing in many -- if any -- NHL games, his poor play wasn't the story tonight.

Instead, the big news out of tonight's game was the stellar performance of the offense. They threw 39 shots on Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom, and the attack was sustained throughout the entire hockey game. If it weren't for lights out netminding from Backstrom, the Flyers would have certainly ran away with the game. Instead, they were held at bay, but impressive performances by several players on the offensive side of the puck are what stand out on this night.

Briere was all over the ice, winning puck battles along the boards, making plays by himself, and most of all, showing off the unique passing ability the Flyers so greatly missed last season. He clearly looked like a player determined to put an injury-riddled season behind him.

Claude Giroux opened the scoring on a fluke goal a few minutes in. Mika Pyorala would make it 2-0 later in the period on a brilliant pass from Mike Richards. The top line, composed of Pyorala, Richards, and Simon Gagne, looked very much in sync tonight. They were dangerous seemingly every time they hit the ice.

Minnesota was down and out after a dominant Philadelphia first period, but it was one Wild player who would turn the game around. Shortly following a Martin Havlat goal on a broken play in front of Emery midway through the second period, Cal Clutterbuck, a player who fits the generic description of on-ice agitator, decided to mix things up with Dan Carcillo. Until this point, the Flyers had dictated the pace and the game was quiet on the physical front, but Clutterbuck's work got under the Flyers' skin and that pace took a complete 180-degree turn.

The festivities clearly gave the Wild new life, and shortly after, Minnesota was generating sustained pressure in the Philadelphia end. From there, it was only a matter of time until we had a tie game, and defenseman Brent Burns made it happen with a blazing slap shot from the top of the left faceoff circle. While Backlund most definitely should have stopped the shot, it was Clutterbuck who successfully got the Flyers off of their game, leading to the pressure and ultimately the goal.

In addition to his assist early in the game, Mike Richards showed off midseason form tonight. Like Briere, he would score a goal in both the game and the shootout, but the highlight of his night was a devastating hit on Wild center Eric Belanger. The 31-year-old Belanger should have known better than to have his head down while fumbling for the puck in the offensive zone, but apparently he didn't, and the Captain made him pay.

If you missed the video tonight or weren't at the game, it was a perfectly executed, perfectly clean hit -- and don't let anybody tell you otherwise. Still, those in the Wild camp were unhappy with the aftermath of the blow. Here's what Minneapolis Star-Tribune writer Michael Russo had to say about the reception of the hit from the Philly faithful.
They keep showing the Richards hit on Belanger on the jumbotron, much to the fans’ delight. Game ops people are as classy here in Philly.
Belanger was dazed and got up slowly, but he completed his shift and skated off on his own power. Given that news, why can't we revel in a perfectly legal aspect of the sport of hockey without the issue of classlessness being raised? When Kimmo Timonen was railed into the ice during last year's playoffs, it replayed several times on NBC's coverage of the game, and we never once brought up the subject of classlessness. Of course, we all know why comments like this are made. If this weren't Philadelphia, I sincerely doubt it'd be mentioned.

Richards would score his goal on a beautifully executed cross-ice pass from Gagne. Trailing the play, Richards snuck in behind the defense and found twine with his one-time shot.

The low-light of the night came early in the third period. Braydon Coburn must have ticked off the wrong old man, because after a little battle along the endboards with 37-year-old Owen Nolan, the two dropped the gloves. Soon after, Nolan dropped Coburn with a left and down he went. Embarrassing, and Minnesota even got a power play out of the deal.

On that ensuing power play, Clutterbuck would ram home a pass from Pierre-Marc Bouchard to tie the score at three. The Flyers would then control most of the period before an unfortunate bounce off the skate of Ryan Parent found the back of the net, giving Minnesota the lead. Briere would tie it on a heads-up play in front of Backstrom, picking up a loose rebound, circling behind the net, and depositing the rubber into an empty goal before the goalie even knew what was going on.

The 4-4 game would find its way to a shootout, despite a Peco Power Play in overtime. Richards and Briere each scored, but the Wild would take the win thanks to Backlund's ugly play at the other end.

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