Ten years ago, Brian Boucher backstopped the Flyers to one of their more memorable playoff runs.
With the team now on the verge of qualifying for the 2009-2010 postseason, and Boucher once again positioned as "the man" between the pipes, the question must be asked:
Can history repeat itself?
|Philadelphia Flyers' Brian Boucher, left, blocks a shot by Montreal Canadiens' Maxim Lapierre in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, April 2, 2010, in Philadelphia. Montreal won 1-0. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) |
"For me, it really represents an opportunity," said Boucher, after practice at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone
on Thursday. "To get back into the playoffs and have a chance to start, obviously it would be a big deal and something I'd look to make the most of.
"Once you're in, anything can happen."
Boucher speaks from experience. After replacing veteran John Vanbiesbrouck as the team's starting goaltender late in the 1999-2000 regular season, the then-23-year-old rookie caught fire and led the Flyers to within one win of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Along the way, he etched his name into the annals of postseason lore with several memorable performances.
Who can forget the quintuple overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins - the longest game in the NHL's modern era - in which Boucher allowed a mere goal on 58 shots?
How about the sprawling, mask-losing breakaway stop he made against New Jersey Devils sniper Patrick Elias in the following round? Many still consider it the best save ever made by a Flyers netminder.
"It was an unbelievable ride," Boucher recalled. "If you remember, that was a veteran-laden team. I did my part, but we had leaders like Keith Primeau, Rick Tocchet, Keith Jones, even Chief (current assistant coach Craig Berube) to pick up the slack.
"We had Mark Recchi, John LeClair, [Eric] Desjardins, [Luke] Richardson; so many guys who had great careers, but many are retired now. In some ways, it's hard to believe a decade [has passed] since then. I've had a whole career in between."
Boucher, whose age now matches his uniform number (33), started all 18 of the team's playoff games that year. He was justifiably heralded as the Flyers' goaltender of the present and future at the time, but it wasn't to be.
The following season, the Woonsocket, Rhode Island native struggled out of the gate, and eventually lost the starting job to European vet Roman Cechmanek. In June of 2002, Boucher, the first goaltender ever selected by the Flyers in the first round (22nd overall, 1995) was dealt to the Phoenix Coyotes.
He would bounce around the league for several seasons, making additional stops in Calgary, Chicago, Columbus, and San Jose and even the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms before returning to the Flyers as a free agent last summer.
Boucher was brought in primarily to back-up another offseason acquisition, Ray Emery. But Emery would suffer a season-ending abdominal injury and Michael Leighton, who caught fire after being plucked from the waiver wire in December, went down with an ankle injury last month.
"It's been tough," said Boucher, who also missed time at the start of the season with a lower body injury, and again after lacerating his hand while making a save. "Injuries are part of the game, but obviously something you never want to see.
"[Emery] played well earlier in the year and Mike, well, we all know the job he did when he came here. I feel really good, and I'm confident that I can do the job. Like I said, I have to view this as an opportunity and go out there every night to get the job done."
Since taking over for Leighton in mid-March, Boucher has looked progressively better.
"I think maybe it took him a little time to get comfortable, not being used to playing regularly as much. But, these past few games especially, [Boucher] has really come on," noted head coach Peter Laviolette, specifically citing Boucher's performances in a 4-3 home win over the Detroit Red Wings on Easter Sunday and a 2-0 shutout of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday.
Those results have put the Flyers in a position to clinch a playoff berth, with two out of a possible four points needed from a regular season-ending home-and-home series against the New York Rangers.
The teams will play Friday night at Madison Square Garden, then will meet in the regular season finale at the Wachovia Center on Sunday afternoon.
To get back into the playoffs and have a chance to start, obviously it would be a big deal and something I'd look to make the most of." - Brian Boucher
"We're in a position where we still control our own destiny, and Brian's clutch play is a major reason," Laviolette continued. "He made some big stops in the third period of the Toronto game, which were huge. Obviously, we'll need him to be equally as good [against the Rangers]."
In that victory over Toronto, Boucher notched not only his 17th career shutout, but his 100th NHL win.
"It's nice, but I'm sure there will be time to enjoy milestones and things like that later," he said. "Right now, the focus is only on the Rangers and getting two more points. In a way, it's kind of like trying to close out a playoff series, getting that fourth victory.
"So, I guess you could say that we're already in postseason mode. That's how I'm looking at it, anyway - win and get in. Then we can worry about who we're facing in the playoffs, the match-ups, and all of that stuff."