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Boucher earns a measure of redemption

by Dan Rosen
PHILADELPHIA -- A decade has passed since Brian Boucher started the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a No. 1 goalie. He's played in five different organizations and even spent most of one season across the parking lot with the old Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL.

Indeed, a lot has happened since Boucher led the Flyers to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in 2000 against the New Jersey Devils. Now, he's finally going to get a second chance when the Flyers meet the Devils in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Boucher made 24 saves in Sunday's must-win game against the New York Rangers at Wachovia Center. He then turned aside both Erik Christensen and Olli Jokinen in the shootout to preserve a 2-1 win complete with a major helping of vindication for the maligned goalie.

"You don't get these opportunities a lot and it's been a long time since I played in big time games like this," Boucher said. "To be back here doing it again in Philadelphia, I can't tell you how excited I am and how much it means to me. Is there a bit of vindication? Yeah, but there is still some work to do. If you believe in yourself, believe in your teammates and believe in the system you play anything is possible."

When Michael Leighton went down with a high ankle sprain on March 16, there were many around the NHL counting the Flyers out because there was no way that Boucher could get the job done.

The Rhode Island native gave the critics even more to moan about because he was just OK down the stretch. He lugged a 4-6-2 record in Leighton's absence into Sunday's showdown and was coming off a rather average performance at Madison Square Garden Friday, when he allowed four goals on 25 shots.

But Boucher brought his Sunday best to the ice in the regular season finale. He wasn't tested often, but when he made all the necessary saves. The only goal the Rangers got was a deflection off Jody Shelley's stick just 3:27 into the game. Boucher had no chance to make the save.

When it came down to the shootout, he was poised under pressure. He didn't give Jokinen anything to shoot at in the third round and that save on the Finnish center set off impromptu celebrations in living rooms and bars across Philadelphia.

"When Boosh makes that save, his expression tells the story," Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger said. "We're not done yet, so hopefully he can build on that and use that to propel us in the playoffs."

Boucher was not signed this summer to be the Flyers' starting goalie in the playoffs. That task was supposed to fall on Ray Emery's shoulders, but he needed surgery on his left hip and is done for the season.

"Is there a bit of vindication? Yeah, but there is still some work to do. If you believe in yourself, believe in your teammates and believe in the system you play anything is possible."
-- Brian Boucher

Leighton, a waiver-wire pickup from Carolina in mid-December, filled in for Emery and it looked as if the Flyers' goaltending had stabilized. He was dynamite with a 17-9-2 record, including five straight wins and a 1.98 GAA from Feb. 8-March 2. But he went down with his ankle injury in Nashville nearly four weeks ago, leaving the job in Boucher's hands. On his watch, the Flyers dropped from fifth and had to play Sunday in Game 82 just to get into the playoffs.

But Boucher got the job done when it mattered most. He earned his second chance.

"I think it was more the media and maybe a couple of fans that have shown a little displeasure in some of the games that he played, but us in the locker room know how hard he worked when he was the third goalie, trying to stay sharp," Pronger said. "He's getting a chance right now and he's taking advantage of it."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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