Will Flyers go with Boucher or Bobrovsky in goal for Game 3?

Brian Boucher
Brian Boucher
Posted: April 18, 2011

Being a goaltender in the NHL is a lot like being an amateur psychologist - constantly trying to examine and understand personalities and decisions on a daily basis.

Brian Boucher admits that he spent more than a little time over the past 48 hours trying to view the Flyers' goaltending dilemma objectively - even though it does not take a big sell to put stock into his own case to start against Buffalo tonight in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

"I think you always try to convince yourself, 'It makes sense to do this, it makes sense to do that,' " Boucher said yesterday. "You try to see things both ways. I'm sure it's a high-pressure situation."

To say that Flyers coach Peter Laviolette had a lot on his plate when deciding his starter for tonight would be the understatement of the season so far.

"He's trying to juggle [Sergei Bobrovsky's] psyche and how he's feeling," Boucher said. "And at the same time, he's trying to win a playoff series and move on so we can win the Stanley Cup."

For Laviolette, tonight's decision is about much more than just a Game 3 starter. In his mind, Laviolette is juggling the fragile mind of a talented 22-year-old rookie who lasted just 12 minutes and 30 seconds in his second-ever start in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Laviolette is balancing that against a steady veteran goaltender in Boucher who not only came in and settled the game down - giving the Flyers a "calming influence," as more than a few players said in the locker room after the game - and allowed just one goal in the final 47 helter-skelter minutes of play.

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

For the rest of the Flyers players, they say it matters little who is in net when the puck drops tonight. They know that decision can change in a matter of minutes.

For the Flyers franchise, as a whole, it is about balancing the future vs. the present. Even though Boucher gave the Flyers the best chance to win Saturday, is it worth possibly losing Bobrovsky's strong mind-set for the remainder of the playoffs?

"With any player, you're dealing with human beings," Boucher said. "People have feelings. If you don't play well, you feel bad about yourself or feel like you let the team down. And if you play great, you feel great. Sometimes you've got to calm that down a little bit. With a young guy, you want to make sure his mind is in a right place and in a place where he can contribute 100 percent."

At that point, Laviolette might be better off using Michael Leighton as tonight's backup if he decides to go with Boucher - because at least in Leighton, as was the case with Boucher, he would know exactly what he is getting in case he needed to pull hard on that leash for the second time this series.

Boucher said on Sunday that he talked to Bobrovsky after the game. While he said Bobrovsky was "disappointed from the personal standpoint," he also was happy that the Flyers were able to knot the series.

In September, the Flyers didn't know what they were getting in Bobrovsky. More than 7 months later, they still don't know anything definitive - other than the fact that he is a hard worker and has talent. Is he the franchise's goaltender of the future? Truthfully, we don't know enough about him now to anoint him the savior - or write him off as just another No. 2 in a league filled with them.

What we do know is that the Flyers like to say that Bobrovsky bounces back after a tough outing as well as anyone. Well, that is not exactly true. Before Saturday, Bobrovsky had been pulled six times from a start - and his record in the following six starts is just 3-2-1. Since overtime losses count just as much as losses in the playoffs, we'll call that 3-3:

1.

Nov. 18 vs. Tampa Bay: 4 GA, 11 shots, 20 min, 8-7 L

Next start: Nov. 24 at Minnesota: 1 GA, 6-1 W

2.

Dec. 20 vs. Florida: 4 GA, 22 shots, 33 min, 5-0 L

Next start: Dec. 31 at Anaheim: 5 GA, 5-2 L

3.

Feb. 1 at Tampa Bay: 3 GA, 6 shots, 20 min, 4-0 L

Next start: Feb. 3 vs. Nashville: 2 GA, 3-2 W

4.

March 6 at NY Rangers: 3 GA, 18 shots, 33 min, 7-0 L

Next start: March 8 vs. Edmonton: 1 GA, 4-1 W

5.

March 22 vs. Washington: 3 GA, 9 shots, 21 min, 5-4 SOL

Next start: March 24 vs. Pittsburgh: 1 GA, 2-1 SOL

6.

April 9 vs. NY Islanders: 3 GA, 10 shots, 12 min, 7-4 W

Next start: April 14, Game 1 vs. Buffalo: 1 GA, 1-0 L

7.

April 16, Game 2 vs. Buffalo: 3 GA, 7 shots, 13 min, 5-4 W

Next start: ????

If you want, you can look at Bobrovsky's solid goals-against average in those bounce-back games and cheer. But in the playoffs, results are what matter. Did you happen to notice the proximity in days between Bobrovsky's gag job in net and his next opportunity? Especially during the second half of the season, he has been right back in there - even after Boucher salvaged the game and put the Flyers in a position to win.

Perhaps the biggest irony coming out of Saturday's Game 2 win is that if the Flyers did not win with Boucher in net, Laviolette would not have the wiggle room in the series to even risk another Bobrovsky blowup in net. Boucher would be the starter by default. Instead, with a tied series, Laviolette can afford to experiment if he so chooses.

But for a coach who says the decision that needs to be made is the one that is "best for the team," he might struggle selling his players on Bobrovsky. They saw the results on Saturday. They echoed the sentiments about the calmness on the ice.

But that might not be such a hard sell with management - which also has a long-term goal in mind.

This season, since June 10, 2010, has been about winning now. And not developing a goaltender who they didn't even know existed for a run 3 years from now, long after the core of this team likely will have been disassembled and reassembled.

Laviolette has not been afraid to sit a talented young player before. James van Riemsdyk was a healthy scratch for six games earlier this season. Look where it got him: voted the first star in each of the first two games of this series. But Laviolette has never done the same with Bobrovsky.

So, what to do? Bobrovsky can make the acrobatic saves Boucher cannot. But Bobrovsky, more often than not, lets in the goals Boucher does not.

Laviolette's head is likely saying Boucher. But his heart is probably pointing to Bobrovsky. Somewhere in the back of each one of those, deep in the subconscious, is Leighton. And Laviolette has always coached with his gut.

"He's been pretty good at pushing all the right buttons since he's been here," Boucher said. "We'll see what happens."

Stat watch

0: Times the Sabres have lost back-to-back games since new owner Terry Pegula took control of the franchise on Feb. 22. Tonight is Pegula's first home playoff game as an owner.

3-2-1:

Sergei Bobrovsky's record in his next start after being pulled from a game.

13:

Years since the Flyers last had 10 power-play opportunities in a playoff game, as they did on Saturday. Both times were against Buffalo. Last time was April 24, 1998. They were 1-for-10 in both.

18-3:

Flyers' record in a series when leading 2-1 after Game 3. They're just 7-19 all-time when trailing 2-1 in a series.

3 KEYS TO GAME 3

1. Invite the Boo Birds:Scott Hartnell was asked yesterday what is the best way to quiet HSBC Arena. "Um, score. Get the boo birds out there. I'm sure they'll love Danny Briere." Well-said.

2. Jeff Carter:

Mike Richards has contributed in a big way defensively, but Jeff Carter is one of five Flyer forwards (Richards, Andreas Nodl, Darroll Powe and Blair Betts) without a point so far this series.

3. Discipline:

The Flyers were whistled for 11 of Game 2's 24 penalties and Buffalo capitalized on two first-period power plays. In all, 54 penalty minutes were doled out.

QUOTABLE

"Any stick that was touching them, they were able to make it look good."

- Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, about the Flyers' 10 power plays in Game 2.

"Danny [Briere] isn't going to go toe-to-toe with him, so why not me? It gets worse during a seven-game series. The hits add up. You start taking numbers, who's hitting you and who's hitting you late. That's why it's the best hockey of the year."

- Scott Hartnell on his fight against Paul Gaustad in Game 2 on the revved up "hate factor" and physicality in the playoffs.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|