In only second game, Flyers face goalie questions

Buffalo's Andrej Sekera scores past the Flyers' Sergei Bobrovsky for the Sabres' third goal.
Buffalo's Andrej Sekera scores past the Flyers' Sergei Bobrovsky for the Sabres' third goal.
Posted: April 17, 2011

The question now: Is their bullpen good enough to win it all?

That would be the Flyers, not the Phillies. A team with championship aspirations for most of the season is suddenly faced with the issue that has undone this franchise too many times. In just the second game of the Stanley Cup tournament, the goalie was benched.

Sergei Bobrovsky looked overwhelmed in allowing three goals in the first seven shots he faced against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. Brian Boucher came on in relief, restored order, and gave his team a chance to win a game it absolutely had to win.

So now what?

Back to Bobrovsky. It is the only thing that makes sense. The best argument was made by Boucher himself, although the veteran is also prepared to start if called upon by coach Peter Laviolette.

"I think it's a role you kind of have to grow into," Boucher said of coming in cold. "Obviously it's much more comfortable to know you're going to start and prepare the day before accordingly. Sometimes you've got to deal with curveballs. Today we didn't have a morning skate or much warm-up, so you're pretty much going on adrenaline."

If there is a Russian word for curveballs, maybe Bobrovsky can learn to deal with them. But the 21-year-old rookie has enough to deal with as he adjusts to the intensity of the playoffs. He played well in Game 1 and not so well in Game 2.

"I don't think we gave up a lot of chances in the first [period]," Laviolette said. "They just ended up in the back of the net."

Laviolette yanked Bobrovsky after he allowed a third goal on the Sabres' seventh shot. It was a poor play by his teammates: Andrej Sekera was allowed to break in all alone. But Bobrovsky seemed to get smaller, giving Sekera a huge expanse at the top of the net. He hit that generous target, and Bobrovsky was done.

"There are areas we could have played better in front of him," Laviolette said. "I think just the change in momentum at that point - Boosh is a veteran goaltender. You've got somebody there who has some presence around, some calmness to him, who handles the puck a little bit better and takes the pressure off our defensemen."

If Boucher has a calming effect in comparison to Bobrovsky, then it stands to reason the rookie would not be as well-suited to that role. Not yet. If Boucher starts Game 3 in Buffalo and has a rough outing, things could really spin out of control for the Flyers.

This year, Laviolette has changed goaltenders for cause eight times now. Boucher replaced Bobrovsky six times. Five times, including Sunday, Boucher restored order to the chaos, allowing a single goal per relief appearance.

Both times Bobrovksy relieved Boucher in the regular season, he gave up two goals or more. He played pretty well in Vancouver in December, stopping 19 of 21 shots after Boucher was pulled for allowing four goals. More recently, in a 7-0 loss to the Rangers last month, Boucher gave up four goals on 18 shots. Bobrovsky came in and gave up three goals on 18 shots.

Clearly, then, Bobrovsky is not as well-suited to coming out of the bullpen. And a bad outing in the pressure-cooker of the postseason could fry his confidence for good.

Laviolette does not talk about his plans for his goaltenders. He pointed out the team has avoided having a "starter, per se" all season. But he went with Bobrovsky to start the playoffs for a reason: because the kid is much more capable of getting hot and carrying his team through the two-month torture test that is the Cup tournament.

Has that really changed? Because of one period in which the Flyers penalty killing broke down badly on one goal and a turnover created a breakaway on another?

Laviolette did offer a bit of a hint.

"We've got a lot of confidence in Bob," he said. "He always answers the bell. When he's had an outing in which he wishes he could have a few back, he always answers the bell. He's a young kid, but we're really happy with him."

If the Flyers learned anything from last year, it's that there is no direct path to the Cup. They'd obviously like to win both games in Buffalo, but they absolutely have to win one. That makes it a best-of-three series with two games in Philadelphia.

They can afford to risk Game 3 on giving Bobrovsky the chance to bounce back and take another step toward being The Man. If he responds, they will win this series and have a chance to make a legitimate run.

If Bobrovsky doesn't answer this bell, that probably means it is tolling for the Flyers anyway.


Follow columnist Phil Sheridan on Twitter at twitter.com/SheridanScribe

Read his blog at http:// go.philly.com/philabuster or his recent columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

 

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