Bob Ford: Brian Boucher keeps earning his spot in the Flyers net

Brian Boucher blocks a shot by the Rangers' Derek Stepanin the third period. The netminder made 24 saves.
Brian Boucher blocks a shot by the Rangers' Derek Stepanin the third period. The netminder made 24 saves.
Posted: December 19, 2010

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette sent backup goalie Brian Boucher onto the ice Saturday for the fourth time in the last five games. It is December, so it is dangerous to say that this, or anything else that happens with the hockey team for a while, means anything.

But nothing succeeds like success, and Boucher extended a personal seven-game unbeaten streak in the 4-1 win over the Rangers, also completing a stretch in which he has come out ahead of both Pittsburgh and Boston.

Holding your own against some of the best of the conference rivals can't hurt your standing, but Boucher has been around long enough to know that Decembers are not what this game is about.

"Things can change quickly, nothing's guaranteed," he said. "I'm getting a chance now and just trying to make the best of it."

Figuring out why Boucher has gotten this extended amount of playing time is an interesting parlor game, but the real answer would be difficult to obtain. With Michael Leighton having returned from back surgery, the Flyers have three goaltenders now, one more than necessary, and will eventually have to make a decision on whom to keep.

It could be the organization wants a long look at Boucher to see that he is fully recovered from the nicks and injuries of last season and could spell Sergei Bobrovsky if the rookie starter is either unavailable or takes a downturn.

It could be that Laviollete sees the long road ahead and wants to give Bobrovsky a breather, or simply that Boucher has played well and there's nothing wrong with piling up points behind a hot hand, regardless of the month.

"I believe in putting people back out there if they go out and do what is asked to do. They deserve the right to go back in and do it again," Laviollete said. "His play has been excellent. There's no other way to describe it. You get the feeling that you're safe, that nothing bad's going to happen when he's in there."

For his part Boucher, who turns 34 next month, doesn't bother trying to figure out why he is playing. He knows the reality of a long season, and the mathematics of three goaltenders, but none of that really matters.

"If you start trying to get into other people's heads . . . I'm not a psychologist. To be honest, I don't think about any of that stuff," Boucher said. "I know what I have to do to stay ready and if I do that, more times than not, I'll do a good job. If that's good enough for people, good. If not, I can't control it."

It is the mind-set of the position, because there is so much that can't be controlled in goal. Pucks can bounce off someone's stick or their backside and trick you. Shots can be taken when the forest in front of the net keeps you from seeing them. Then, it's up to the hockey gods to decide if you get lucky. On Saturday, in a game that wasn't very crisp for either side, Boucher made some good saves, but he got some good fortune as well.

"There were a few pucks I didn't see and got away with it. It was one of those nights the puck stayed out," Boucher said. "One got through my legs and stayed out. There was a couple my glove, especially one by [Brandon] Dubinsky in the third period that I didn't see, and they hit a post late . . . and a kick-in that didn't count. I guess I got a lot of breaks along the way, come to think of it. Just enjoy it while it lasts."

In his seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1), Boucher has played to a .166 goals-against average, so it hasn't been all about the pucks being kind to him. Those things even out over time, but the Catch-22 for backup goalies - even proven veterans - is they rarely get enough time to let them even out. Boucher has been given that greatest of gifts in the last few games: enough time to let his play speak for itself.

"I feel like I proved myself to them last year that I can still do it. I didn't play for three months and then I came in," Boucher said. "And I thought I had a strong training camp, after I got healthy over the summer. Obviously, [Bobrovsky] had a real impressive camp, but I felt I was just as strong. When they decided to go with Bob, I knew I had to stay patient and prepare the way I normally would. I'm grateful that I'm getting a chance right now."

What that chance means is a secret December can't tell. Boucher's stretch of play could mean everything for him this season or nothing. Like a puck coming through a thicket of legs and sticks, he can't see where this thing is going. If he gets a chance, though, Brian Boucher intends to glove it.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read

his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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