Flyers’ Boucher drinking from fountain of youth

With his best showing in years, NHLHS Philadelphia Flyers’ correspondent David Strehle looks at the re-emergence of goaltender Brian Boucher.

The re-emergence of Brian Boucher has been one of the biggest stories in an excellent first half of the season for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Having played second fiddle to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton last year and Sergei Bobrovsky in the early stages of the 2010-11 campaign, Boucher has always been the good soldier.

But he never complained.  His attitude and sense of team-first have been badges of honor, proudly displayed by the man they call “Boosh”.

And when given the opportunity, he has rarely disappointed.  If there are any questions, just refer to his definition of clutch performance in last year’s regular season finale.  Boucher’s classic fist-pump on the way to celebrate with teammates after outdueling New York Rangers’ netminder Henrik Lundqvist to propel Philly into the postseason will forever be burned into the memories of Flyers fans.

Feels Like the First Time

Philadelphia’s first round pick (22nd overall) in the 1995 entry draft, the now 34-year-old is in the second year of his second tour of duty with the Orange-and-Black.

This season has been very similar to Boucher’s rookie year of 1999-00, when he began the campaign as veteran John Vanbiesbrouck’s backup – only to take the starting role from “Beezer” down the stretch.  Boucher made the all-rookie team that season by posting a 20-10-3 record, and took the Flyers to a game seven in the conference finals before finally succumbing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Devils.

The fact that Boucher began 2010-11 as Bobrovsky’s backup, but is now picking up more starts as the season wears on is kind of an ironic twist.  Boucher is playing so well that head coach Peter Laviolette has to go with the hot hand.  It’s the same situation as Boucher’s rookie year, just that now it is the veteran wrestling starts away from the rookie.

And Boucher looks like he’s reliving his youth.

I feel good physically“, Boucher said after Saturday’s win over the New Jersey Devils, ”it’s good to get wins, it’s nice to get an opportunity to play and I’m just trying to make the most of it.”

With Leighton clearing waivers and being sent to the Adirondack Phantoms, it would appear that Laviolette has his goaltending situation set with a Boucher-Bobrovsky tandem.

Asked if this gave him any extra confidence, he didn’t hesitate with his response.  “I felt pretty good all year long.  I’ve tried not to let the other stuff be a factor, Boucher said.  “Just try to come to the rink and do my job, be prepared to play, and try to have fun with it.  Like I said, I’m just happy to get the opportunity to play, get wins and have fun.”

If their 26-10-5 record is any indication, Boucher and his teammates have had a decent amount of fun thus far this season.  Their 26-10-5 mark has them first-overall in the Eastern Conference and off to their best start since 1986.

I think we’ve just carried over what we did last year in the playoffs“, Boucher said.  “Our goal this year was to put ourselves in a better position come spring time.  We’ve done a good job thus far but we still have a lot of work to do.”

Having gone 9-1-1 in his last 11 decisions, Boucher has improved his record to a very respectable 10-4-5 for the season.  He also has taken over the team lead in goals-against average (2.23) and save percentage (.921), and his GAA is fifth overall in the NHL.

In light of the situation with defenseman Chris Pronger’s absence from the lineup due to injury, Boucher’s play has been crucial to the club’s continued success.

GM Paul Holmgren’s offseason additions to the blue line are also worth pointing out.  “Yeah we’re a pretty deep hockey team, we’re missing our best defenseman in Chris Pronger and we’re still doing pretty well“, noted Boucher.  ”We’ve added Sean O’Donnell, Andrej Meszaros, and we haven’t even had the chance to see Matt Walker.  We’re pretty deep at defense, and I think we’ve always been deep at forward.”

A Huge Win in Hockeytown

The Flyers recently ended a streak of futility in Detroit that lasted over 22 years, dating back to November of 1988.  And it was only fitting that Boucher was in Philadelphia’s crease to end the streak.

It was not only his 34th birthday, but it was also Boucher who was in net the last time Philadelphia had a real chance to end the Red Wings’ streak of dominance over them.  On October 18, 2001, Boucher and the Flyers nursed a 2-1 lead heading into the last minute of regulation.  But goals by Sergei Federov at 19:19 and Brett Hull at 19:42 stunned the club, and kept the stretch intact.

With the 3-2 victory in the Motor City on January 2, the streak became a thing of the past.  More importantly, it salvaged a road trip that had seen the team lose two of three, and three of four overall.

The win in Motown was a huge confidence booster for the entire club.

Keeping it Going

While Bobrovsky provided the hot hand in the early portion of the year and Boucher near perfect as of late, Philadelphia has risen to the top of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings.

As they shuffle off to Buffalo to play the Sabres tonight, they currently have a one point lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins – with an ever-important three games in hand on their cross-state rivals.

But there is still half of a season left to play, and Boucher knows how quickly things can change and that he and his teammates have to be consistent the rest of the way.

It’s been a good start, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”

And as things have come full circle in the hockey life of Boucher, the team’s former-goalie of the future has now become the goalie of the present for the Orange-and-Black over a decade later.

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David Strehle
NHLHS Philadelphia Flyers Correspondent
dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com
Twitter: @PhilaDAVEia