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PHILADELPHIA -- If we had not borne witness to last spring's remarkable goalie carousel that carried the Philadelphia Flyers to the brink of a championship, the temptation would be to write off this team right here and now.
Having gone through three goaltenders in five games, the Philadelphia Flyers once again face the never-ending question when it comes to the men who wear the masks in this town:
Veteran Brian Boucher, who came on in relief of shaky rookie Sergei Bobrovsky in Game 2 of Philly's first-round series versus Buffalo, was lit up Friday night for three goals on 11 shots before being pulled at 15:36 of the first period. None of the goals was particularly pretty, but the first two, by Tyler Ennis and Thomas Vanek, were ghastly.
Boucher was playing pass, and Ennis simply shot the puck on net from a bad angle and it snuck through Boucher to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead just 2:24 into the game. Eighty-seven seconds later, Vanek somehow managed to get the puck past Boucher from behind the goal line.
"I take full responsibility for it," the classy Boucher said as he stood surrounded by reporters after the game, answering question after question about his meltdown. "I put my team behind the eight ball. It was on me. Those are goals that can't go in. Like I said, I take full responsibility."
|Michael Leighton replaced Brian Boucher at 15:36 of the first period in Friday's Game 5.|
That the Flyers stormed back to tie the game with backup Michael Leighton in net, only to lose 4-3 in overtime on Ennis' second goal of the game, might serve to cloud the team's goaltending issues. But where the Flyers' goaltending carousel stops now is the question that remains central to the team's short-term future, and beyond.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette described Boucher's outing Friday as an aberration.
"It's just a tough start, some funny goals and the way they went in," the coach said. "But Brian Boucher has been a terrific player for us for the entire year. Even in this series, he came in and he settled things down and gave us an opportunity to win some games. It was just an odd start."
The prevailing thought around the team is Laviolette will go back to Boucher for Sunday's Game 6 in Buffalo.
Leighton, playing in just his second NHL game of the season after being placed on waivers and sent to the Flyers' minor league team in Adirondack this season, was fine in relief, giving up just one goal (Ennis' overtime winner) on 21 shots.
But there was a reason Leighton was in the minors, and it was because the Flyers believed Bobrovsky and Boucher gave them the best chance to win. Or at least they did until they struggled down the stretch, and they chanced losing Leighton to another team by bringing him back through waivers so he could rejoin the club on the eve of the playoffs.
As for Game 6, Leighton said he would like to play. But he also said Boucher "has done a great job to get us in this situation and tonight was one of those nights where, for two of those goals, that guy could take a hundred shots in there and he might score one. So, it's a tough bounce. We have confidence in him that he's going to bounce back and play a good one in Buffalo."
A year ago, Laviolette had no choice when it came to his goaltending in the playoffs. With Ray Emery out and Leighton injured, Boucher started and beat New Jersey in the first round. Then, when Boucher got hurt in the conference semifinals, Leighton came back and backstopped the Flyers during their seminal comeback against the Bruins. Leighton played the rest of the way, although Boucher did see action twice in the Stanley Cup finals against Chicago when Leighton played poorly.
Now, of course, Laviolette has a choice.
Does he go back to Boucher, who helped right the ship in Game 2 of this series when it appeared Bobrovsky's nerves got the better of him? Or does he give Leighton the chance to repeat his miracle return during the Boston series a year ago?
"I'm going to sleep on that and then probably give you nothing," Laviolette quipped. "Business as usual."
Business as usual, indeed.
With Chris Pronger iffy to play in this series, as he has taken longer to return from a hand injury, and Jeff Carter not expected to be available for the foreseeable future with what is believed to be a knee injury, the Flyers are going to need much better from Boucher if they're going to stay alive. He is certainly hoping to get a chance to redeem himself.
"I would very much like to redeem myself," Boucher said. "Like I said, it was my responsibility tonight. I take ownership in that. To put your team in a hole like that when it's an important game, they didn't deserve that. I would like to get a second crack at it. We will see what happens."
If we hadn't seen with our own eyes how it all turned out last season, we'd say the Flyers are in big trouble.