The Backup Plan

No goalie has shone brighter in the playoffs than Brian Boucher, who keyed the Flyers to a first-round upset
May 02, 2010

Flyers goalie Brian Boucher is too hard traveled to believe in fairy tales, but after backstopping Philadelphia to a berth in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the 33-year-old journeyman is the Cinderella of this hockey spring—and his coach, Peter Laviolette, hasn't yet turned into a pumpkin.

Boucher took over from starter Ray Emery—who went down in December with an abdominal injury—only to lose the spot nine games later after cutting a finger on his stick hand. Boucher sat behind another journeyman, Michael Leighton, whom the Flyers had claimed off waivers, then regained the job when Leighton suffered a high ankle sprain in March (although Philly seemed ready to give a shot to rookie Johan Backlund were it not for a wonky groin).

Despite his lack of portfolio, Boucher outplayed New Jersey's venerable Martin Brodeur in the Flyers' five-game opening-series victory. Boucher, who won just nine of 30 decisions this season and had the NHL's 43rd best save percentage, was nearly impeccable, holding the Devils to just three even-strength goals, none in the last three games. In Philadelphia's 3--0 clinching win last Thursday he matched his shutout total for the season—one.

During his career Boucher, an agreeable man, has proved capable of short-term greatness. Ten years earlier, as a rookie, he took the Flyers to within one game of the Stanley Cup finals before New Jersey beat him three straight. In 2003--04 he played 332 consecutive minutes (plus one second) of shutout hockey for Phoenix, the modern record. Of his resurgence, Flyers senior vice president Bob Clarke, who drafted Boucher in the first round in 1995, says, "I don't think surprised would be the right word, but Boosh's history has been to play really good for long stretches and then struggle for stretches. [But] when he gets going, he's an awfully good goalie."

Returning in 2009--10 to the Flyers after stops with the Coyotes, Flames, Blackhawks, Blue Jackets and Sharks, Boucher also came back at least partly to his stand-up goalie roots. Although a reedy 6'2", 200 pounds, he no longer reflexively drops into a butterfly but reads each play—a less creative (and less successful) version of Brodeur. Against New Jersey he blanketed the bottom of the net and demonstrated superb rebound control, though some credit goes to Flyers defensemen like Chris Pronger for handling Zach Parise around the crease, and the timid play of other Devils forwards.

"I feel like I'm on top of my game," Boucher said one day after punching the second-round ticket. "I know that the guys are going to get some goals, and I think they know I'm going to go in there and compete. That's all you can ask."

And will the clock eventually strike midnight?

"Look, when you haven't [done much] in the playoffs in 10 years, and you've been a journeyman, I'm sure everyone feels that way," he says. "But I believe in myself. If I didn't, I don't think what's happened thus far would've happened. So you just got to keep plugging away."

"If I turn into a pumpkin," adds Boucher, embracing the fairy tale in his own way, "I turn into a pumpkin."

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PHOTOLOU CAPOZZOLAFLAT DENIAL Boucher didn't allow an even-strength goal while beating the Devils in three straight games to close out the series.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)