The plight of Philadelphia's goaltending emerges once again.
After a season in which the Flyers' crease has seen more occupants than a summer sublet, third-string goaltender Brian Boucher went down in Philadelphia's gutsy 4-0 Game 5 win, injuring both of his knees when defenseman Ryan Parent awkwardly fell on him during the second period. Though he avoided a major injury, the 34-year-old netminder will reportedly be out for a couple of weeks -- Philadelphia's got an uphill battle to even make it that far -- so yet again, the Flyers' goaltending carousel makes another stop.
Enter -- or rather, re-enter -- Michael Leighton, another career backup who began the season in Carolina. Philadelphia picked him up off the waiver wire in December after their season-starter, Ray Emery, went down with an abdominal injury. Leighton was supposed to back up Boucher, who took over for Emery, but he won the starting job after Boucher cut his finger in a game.
Leighton excelled in Boucher's absence and his emergence put Boucher back on the bench. Then a high ankle sprain in March opened the door for Boucher to return. Back and forth, up and down. It certainly has been a tough year for Boucher, who is on his second tour with the Flyers after stints in Phoenix, Calgary, Chicago, Columbus and San Jose. Heck, in all honestly, it's probably been an even tougher career.
Ten years ago, as a 23-year-old rookie, Boucher led the league in GAA (1.91) and had the second best save percentage (.918) before leading the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals. Philadelphia ceded a 3-1 series lead to the eventual champion New Jersey Devils, but Boucher couldn't help feeling that maybe it was just the beginning of a long and happy career.
"Things rolled pretty well my rookie year, and you think that you'll probably be in that situation again," Boucher told me after he got his payback by ousting the Devils in the first round this year. "Certainly life was good back then, and since then it's been kind of rocky. I mean, sure, when you're young, you think, 'Oh, this is kind of a piece of cake', but it certainly hasn't been that way the rest of my career. It's been a lot of disappointment. A lot of good times, too. But a lot of disappointment."
After an atrocious sophomore season, Boucher became well acquainted with the bench. He got used to seeing all his action in warmups and working hard in practice, just waiting, hoping, for a chance to shine again. He did for a time in 2004, posting an NHL record shutout streak of 332.01, but after that the rest of his decade was mostly spent in the shadows. This postseason, the hockey world was reminded of that impressive Flyers rookie of 2000, if only for a few games.
Boucher's ability to swallow pucks kept New Jersey's scorers, who feed on rebounds like sharks on a school of fish, relatively quiet. Though his first three games against the Bruins weren't quite as solid, he still made enough timely saves to keep most of the contests close. On Monday night, he again was looking solid in the net, holding the Bruins scoreless in the first 24 minutes before going down in what appeared to be excruciating pain. The injury bug hit this team -- this series -- again.
Leighton picked up where Boucher left off, finishing the shutout performance with 14 saves. It was the first time that a team using two goalies has shut out an opponent in the playoffs since the Montreal Canadiens' Jacques Plante and Charlie Hodge tag-teamed the Bruins in 1955.
In relief, Leighton made some key stops on an underwhelming Boston team that is suffering from the injury plague as much as Philadelphia. Without David Krejci and Marco Sturm, both of whom are done for the season, the Bruins have not gotten the necessary reinforcement from the depths of their roster. Philadelphia, on the other hand, has welcomed the emergence of Ville Leino, a trade deadline pickup from Detroit.
The 26-year-old winger, who came into the lineup when Jeff Carter went down in the first round, is showing his poise and hockey sense. On Monday night, playing with Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere, and seeing more than five minutes on the power play, Leino picked up a goal and an assist, not to mention a lot of props for his strength on the puck and ability to keep play alive in the offensive zone.
Surely, the Bruins have to be thinking that, in the matter of burying the battered Flyers for good, the third time's the charm, especially with a cold goalie in net. But if there seems to be any trend in this series, it's that nothing helps boost a team like a man down.