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Laviolette staying quiet on goaltenders

by Adam Kimelman
VOORHEES, N.J. -- Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette has been pretty consistent on two topics all season long.

He's comfortable with either rookie Sergei Bobrovsky or veteran Brian Boucher in goal.

And he won't discuss publicly the next game's starter until the day of the game.

So for anyone wondering which goalie would start Game 3 of the team's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN), you'll just have to wait a while.

Compelling arguments can be made regarding either goaltender.

Their regular season numbers were fairly similar -- in 54 games, Bobrovsky went 28-13-8 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .919 save percentage; Boucher was 18-10-4 with a 2.42 GAA and .916 save percentage in 34 games.

Bobrovsky was strong in Game 1, stopping 24 of 25 shots in the 1-0 loss. However, he was yanked just 12:30 into Game 2 after allowing three goals on seven shots. Boucher came on in relief and made 20 saves allowing the Flyers to hold on for a series-tying 5-4 victory. After the game, Laviolette and teammates said Boucher was able to calm down what was a chaotic first period.

However, Bobrovsky has done well after poor outings. In 24 occasions this season he either suffered a loss or was pulled from a game, in the next game he has gone 12-5-4 with a 2.65 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.

"In the past Bob has bounced back," said Laviolette. "He's come back (after) an outing he wishes things had gone differently and maybe we could have played better in front of him and he's come back with a strong performance."

Laviolette also has experience dealing with a rookie goaltender in the postseason. With the Carolina Hurricanes In 2006, he started veteran Martin Gerber in Game 1 of the first round against the Montreal Canadiens, but then played rookie Cam Ward for 22 of the final 23 playoff games, including all seven against the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final. Ward went 15-8 in those 23 games in helping the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup.

However, Laviolette said that doesn't make the decision on who starts any easier.

"Any decision you make with the lineup, they're difficult decisions," he said. "They're all difficult. You're talking about people that aren't playing in the lineup right now, that are scratches, those are difficult decisions as well. It's people's livelihood, they want to play. We got guys that are sitting out right now and I'm sure they'd much rather be in the lineup. There's no decisions taken lightly."

Bobrovsky was the only goalie on the ice during Sunday's optional skate here at the Virtua Health Flyers Skate Zone, taking shots about an hour, and didn't speak with the media after. Boucher worked out off the ice, and said he had no idea if he would be starting or backing up. Either way, he said, his preparation doesn't change.

"Your mindset is that you're going to be playing," he said, "and if you don't play, you don't play. … We've been doing it all year so it's not an issue. You come to the rink preparing to play and if you don't, you don't, and if you do, you do. That's how it's been all year, so it's nothing new."

Boucher said he didn't know if Laviolette had made the call in his own mind, and had no idea what the coach's thought process was.

"He's trying to juggle (Bobrovsky's) psyche, how he's feeling, and at the same time he's trying to win playoff series so we can move on and try to win a Stanley Cup," said Boucher. "I'm sure it's a high-pressure situation for Lavi. It's why he gets paid the big bucks, to make those decisions. He's been pretty good at pushing all the right buttons since he's been here. We'll see what happens."

Either way, however, the rest of the team is pretty unconcerned with who would be in net.

"We've got three good goalies," said defenseman Kimmo Timonen, including last year's playoff goalie, Michael Leighton. "To me it doesn't matter who's in there because I know they're going to do their job and play well."

Pronger making trip -- All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger was part of the team's traveling party that left Sunday afternoon for Buffalo. Pronger, still recovering from surgery to repair a broken right hand, hasn't practiced with the team since late last month, and for the last two weeks has been skating with other injured players prior to the team's workouts. He's done almost all skating drills, with very little puckhandling and almost no shooting.

The team lists him as day-to-day and a game-time decision for Game 3, but reported prior to Pronger being declared out for Game 2 on Saturday that Pronger would miss both Game 2 and Game 3.

The players have moved on without Pronger, focusing on the players that are healthy and playing.

"I don't think about it," said Scott Hartnell. "He's around, he's working out. I don't know if he's skating before us or not. Until he's practicing with us for a few times we can't expect him back. He's definitely a presence, we miss him, but it's the farthest thing from our mind."

Nodl a question mark -- The Flyers also list forward Andreas Nodl as day-to-day, due to an upper-body injury that limited him to just six shifts totaling 3:43 in Game 2. If Nodl can't play, two options to replace him are Nikolay Zherdev and Jody Shelley.

Both players bring entirely different skill sets. Zherdev is a creative, dynamic offensive player who had 16 goals in 56 games, while Shelley is a grinder who will bring extra toughness to the equation.

Zherdev has been a healthy scratch for long stretches this season but had a goal and 2 assists in the final five games of the regular season, playing mostly on a line with Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter. He also could be a solid addition to a power play that has gone just 1-for-15 in the series.

"When he came in he had a lot of pop right away," Laviolette said of Zherdev's return to the lineup late in the regular season. "The first couple games he had an impact. The puck was on his stick a lot. … He seemed to have lots of possession time and making plays when he first came back in."

Shelley hasn't played in a month due to a fractured orbital bone. Sunday marked the first day Shelley skated without a full cage to protect his face, instead wearing a visor.

"He brings a real physical element to the game," Laviolette said of Shelley. "He's big, he's strong, he hits. He brings a lot of experience, too. He's been around a long time."

Much like with the goaltender, however, Laviolette said deciding on his forward group was not a simple thing.

"All decisions are tough and they're not taken lightly," he said. "You try to do what's best for the team. Ultimately somebody goes and somebody doesn't. The people that don't, they want to play. They're proud guys and they want to play and I respect that."

Road warriors -- The Flyers' 25 road wins were the most in team history, giving the players a bit of confidence heading into Games 3 and 4 in Buffalo.

Jeff Carter, who led the team with 21 goals on the road, said being on the road allows the team to narrow its focus.

"When you're on the road there's not much to worry about except going out and playing hockey," he said. "For whatever reason, we seem to play our best hockey on the road. Hopefully we can keep it going."

However, Timonen said what happened in the regular season doesn't really mean a lot this time of year.

"I don't think you can rely on what you did in the regular season," he said. "It's playoff time and it's different. That house (HSBC Center) is going to be rocking (Monday) and we have to make sure the first 10 minutes we come hard and ready to play. We can't take penalties and just play a solid defensive game."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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