Oddly, Flyers' goalie situation resembles Sabres'

Sergei Bobrovsky will start Game 1 against Buffalo.
Sergei Bobrovsky will start Game 1 against Buffalo.
Posted: April 11, 2011

In one corner, for Buffalo, there is Ryan Miller, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL's best goaltender. Behind him is a rookie, Jhonas Enroth, who seemingly can't lose.

In the other corner, for the Flyers, there is the same 800-pound gorilla that's as much a part of Philadelphia's hockey history as the color orange.

It never gets old. And the issue never dies.

And it continued again on Saturday, in the Flyers' biggest game of the season, with the Atlantic Division crown on the line. Sergei Bobrovsky, the rookie who not surprisingly was anointed Peter Laviolette's Game 1 playoff starter last Wednesday, lasted just 10 shots and 12 minutes in the 7-4 win over the New York Islanders.

Brian Boucher bailed out the Flyers, allowing just one goal on the remaining 26 shots - what he always has done as the competent and cool backup.

Are the Flyers still confident in Bobrovsky?

Without a doubt. He won over the Flyers' locker room in training camp.

"I think that there's a confidence and a belief in our team and in our goaltenders," Laviolette said Saturday. "We said that all year."

"I'm not worried about him," defenseman Andrej Meszaros said. "He's going to be good."

If the win over the Islanders told us anything, though, it's that Bobrovsky won't be on too long of a leash when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center against Miller and those Sabres.

But that's nothing we didn't already know. And that works for all three goaltenders, not just Bobrovsky. Laviolette proved his point last year, and again last Tuesday. Michael Leighton was smuggled through re-entry waivers on Tuesday not only as an insurance policy but also as a final weapon in the toolshed.

Last June, Leighton became the first goaltender in more than 60 years to be yanked from a game twice in the same Stanley Cup finals when the Flyers fell to Chicago.

The leash is that short. Just don't ask Laviolette about when or if he will pull it.

"I stated my intentions a week ago," he said. "And from this point on, you won't be getting anything out of me."

Laviolette, though, said everything he needed to publicly last year. And on Saturday, in a must-win situation to avoid falling to the No. 4 seed, he said it again with Bobrovsky. In professional sports, it's win at all costs - and hurt feelings or bruised egos go out the window.

"The only thing that I know is that you have to be ready every night, whether you're starting or not," Boucher said. "That's our job sometimes as a backup, to be ready to get called upon to go in, and fortunately I was able to get the job done.

" 'Bob' will be fine. He's bounced back all year long. He's a hard worker and I don't have any worries about him at all."

Boucher was quick to put Bobrovsky's season in perspective, saying that the last 2 months of the season have been hard on everyone, including the rookie netminder.

"He should be very proud," Boucher said. "I try to talk to him, and he's a resilient kid. We haven't played as well as we did at the start of the year, and that can be tough on him sometimes. I think he has 28 wins as a rookie. I wish I had that when I was a rookie."

Over in that other corner, it's another rookie, Enroth, who is making Sabres fans do a double take. Last week in Buffalo, there was a buzz on Western New York sports-talk radio. Fans are interested to see what Enroth can do, especially if Miller isn't 100 percent healthy.

Equally brusque Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has emphatically declared that, "There isn't any doubt that Ryan is our No. 1 goaltender." But "if he's healthy" is the key clause to that statement.

Your humble narrator watched Miller intently at the Sabres' practice last Thursday at HSBC Arena and he did not look like the goaltender who carried Team USA to within a goal of an Olympic gold medal 14 months ago in Vancouver. He was slow. His movement in net looked labored.

And he wasn't healthy enough to start Friday's game against the Flyers. But with a playoff berth on the line, Miller was suddenly ready to play the third period. On Saturday in Columbus, Miller played just 24 minutes before being replaced by Enroth.

It has to make you wonder whether the Flyers and Sabres are really all that far apart when it comes to that goaltending leash, even though Buffalo hasn't had any type of goalie controversy in almost 15 years. It was Dominic Hasek and then Marty Biron quickly passed the baton to Miller.

Still, Enroth has made it interesting in Buffalo. He is now 10-2-2 in 14 starts, collecting 22 of a possible 28 points. And the Sabres, like the Flyers, are confident in either guy.

"Every guy in the room is fully confident in what he can do," Sabres winger Mark Mancari told the Olean Times Herald on April 4. "We don't think twice when he's in the net. That's huge. He's definitely won over everyone in here. To come up here and play with the best of the best, and do what he's been doing, it has been pretty amazing."

That sounds awfully similar to Meszaros on Saturday night.

"It's good to see [Boucher] step up, too, because you never know what will happen in the playoffs," Meszaros said. "We know we have confidence in both goalies. I'm sure whoever is in net, everybody will be comfortable with it and we'll go from there."

That's the thing. You never really know. Maybe the Flyers' goaltending situation really isn't that different than what's going on in Buffalo. One just looks a lot steadier, with a Vezina to flaunt. But it's all about perspective.

Pronger update

Has anyone seen Big Bird?

You know, that 6-6 monster who resides on the Flyers' blue line? Chris Pronger skated in a full "yellow" uniform for about a week after his seemingly minor hand surgery about a month ago, drawing jokes from his teammates about him looking like the iconic Sesame Street character.

No one is laughing anymore. Pronger has not skated since March 26 and he missed the Flyers' final 16 games.

Pronger waffled last week when asked whether he would be ready for Game 1 and general manager Paul Holmgren would say nothing more yesterday than that Pronger remained "day-to-day." Still, if he has been skating in the meantime, he would have been hard to miss. That can't be seen as a positive, even if Thursday is still a few days off.

Slap shots

Buffalo closed the regular season with 62 points (28-11-6) since Jan. 1, the most of any Eastern Conference team . . . Paul Holmgren said forward Blair Betts also remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury . . . The Flyers were given a complete day off yesterday . . . The Flyers' 8-7 loss to Tampa Bay on Nov. 18 was chosen by the NHL Network as one of the "5 Greatest Games" of the 2010-11 season.

Stat watch

5-3: Flyers' record in playoff series against Buffalo, including the 1975 finals that brought Philadelphia its last Stanley Cup. The Sabres have won the last two series, in the 2001 and 2006 conference quarterfinals.

0-2-4: Flyers' record in their previous six games at the Wells Fargo Center before Saturday's division-clinching win over the Islanders.

60 percent: Voters on BuffaloNews.com who say the Sabres will knock off the Flyers in just six games.

Team awards

The Flyers handed out their annual hardware on Saturday night:

-- Bobby Clarke Trophy, team MVP: Claude Giroux was the runaway winner. He led the Flyers in scoring with 76 points, his 25 goals and 51 assists both career highs. He was the first Flyer to net 50 or more assists in a season since Peter Forsberg in 2005-06. Giroux tied for the team lead in power-play (eight) and shorthanded (three) goals and was tied for second among forwards in plus-minus (+20).

-- Barry Ashbee Trophy, best defenseman: Andrej Meszaros said he was "definitely" not expecting to be voted the Flyers' best defenseman Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle also put together vote-worthy seasons, but it was Meszaros, in his first season as a Flyer, who was the most consistent. He collected eight goals and 24 assists for 32 points, his most since 2008 with Ottawa. Meszaros added some bite to the blue line with 189 hits.

-- Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy, most improved: Andreas Nodl posted just five points in his first 48 career NHL games. And despite a rocky start to this season, when he sat out eight of the Flyers' first 13 games as a healthy scratch, Nodl went on to become the team's 10th double-digit goal scorer and finished with 11 goals and 11 assists in 67 games.

-- Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, class guy: This is Brian Boucher's third stop with the organization - and his first Yanick Dupre Class Guy award, given to the player who best illustrates "character, dignity and respect for hockey both on and off the ice." You will be hard-pressed to find a player in the Flyers' locker room more respectful, funny and grounded.

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