Boucher saves best for crucial game

Posted: April 27, 2011

BET YOU never saw that coming.

Bet if a gypsy had told you before Game 7 there would be a goalie change, the fleeting thought about throwing yourself from the Whitman might have entered your mind.

Or kidnapping Brian Boucher and tossing him instead.

Of the many scenarios mulled in the anxious hours before last night's series-deciding playoff game between the Flyers and Buffalo Sabres, the vision of Olympic goaltender Ryan Miller being replaced in the third period by Jhonas Enroth was not one of them. If they placed odds on such things in Vegas - and who knows, maybe some outfit did - you probably could have bought season tickets for your whole block with a $2 bet.

"You could make a movie about this series," Claude Giroux said after the Flyers' 5-2 Game 7 victory over the Sabres last night.

It's what keeps us coming back to sports. It's why a ticket to the upper rung last night was costing well into the 100s on StubHub. A series that had been defined and determined by one goal, one play, one bounce of the puck, ended with a one-sided Flyers' victory, with Boucher being hugged incessantly by a team that has come to build an intense and undying respect for him, and hugged by a few appreciative Sabres on the postgame line as well.

For what he did, yes. But also for what he's been through, for having a mature perspective that allowed him to rebound so remarkably from that awful Game 5 start, from a benching that at the time seemed to be a playoff life sentence, at least this spring. Ryan Miller wrapped his goalie glove around him. Mike Grier, once a teammate in Boucher's darker days in San Jose, draped both arms around him afterward, the two men telling each other how much they loved each other, the loser telling the winner how proud he was of his friend, even when at his own expense.

"We had a good hug," said Boucher. "He's a good friend. "He's an honest player, a guy you'd love to have on your team. You know, you never know how long we've got left to play."

He is 34, Brian Boucher is, and this journey of his is more like a miniseries than a movie. Eleven years earlier, after allowing a second goal late in a Game 7 against the Devils, Boucher seemed to be the guy who would backstop this team for the next decade, the answer to that Hall of Famer dominating games up the turnpike. Then came a summer holdout, an injury-prone season, and a sojourn that took him to places like Phoenix and San Jose, and to AHL towns as well.

He came back to be Ray Emery's backup 2 years ago, and the rest, as they say, has been history. Uneven history, yes, but never uninteresting, never underhanded. Boucher endorsed the two-goalie system Peter Laviolette employed with Sergei Bobrovsky, made no waves when the rookie started Game 1 of this series. He swallowed hard too when Michael Leighton got the start in Game 6, but more importantly, he never lost his focus.

In doing so, he never lost his team. "I've had to deal with adversity a lot in my career," he said at one point after last night's game. "Somehow I keep sticking around. At the end of the day you say to yourself, 'Was it that big of a deal?' All that fretting, all that stress? And in the end you're still playing. I try to think that these things will just work themselves out. Just believe in yourself and keep plugging away."

He saw 28 shots, 26 after a first period in which he saw only two. He was not the biggest reason they won, not even close, facing just eight shots before the score escalated to 3-0 halfway through the game. But he earned his money just the same in the third, when the Sabres poured whatever was left of their thinned lineup at the Flyers, scoring on two of 14 shots. In the end he allowed the same number of goals he did in his last seventh game 11 years ago.

Timing, Boucher has learned, is everything.

In truth, his biggest stop might have come 2 days before, when Buffalo's Paul Gaustad found the puck in front of the net 3 minutes into overtime and Boucher kept it out of the net. A few minutes later the Flyers were hugging each other on the other end, and Boucher's breathless quest to atone for his Game 5 meltdown received another deep breath.

It was all he wanted, all he and his team needed. They delivered the knockout with their most impressive game in 2 months, against the team that had played its best hockey over that span. And when it was over he talked almost immediately about readying for the next round, as his kids rolled pucks around the dressing room.

Someone asked him if there was a lesson in this for them too. He smiled like a father would.

"I think you just want to instill a work ethic in them and tell them to never give up," he said. "There's going to be days when things don't go your way. I think it's important to be stand-up and when you make mistakes, admit it and move on."

Send email to donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.

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