Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Averting Disaster

Last night I had my first softball game of the season at 7:30 p.m., meaning I was going to miss much of the Flyers-Leafs game. During our 16-15 by-the-skin-of-our-teeth victory, we were informed the Flyers held a 1-0 lead in the third period. As my roommate and I listened to the game on the ride home — with Tim Saunders proclaiming the Flyers have let the Leafs hang around and Chris Therien proclaiming if the Flyers score, there's no way Toronto is scoring two goals — we heard the Flyers dominating the play in Toronto's end, but Jean-Sebastien Giguere closing all doors. I turned to my roommate, who was driving, as we pulled onto our block and said, "You know Toronto's gonna score right when we walk in."

Then, not 2 minutes after walked in the door and turned on the game, this happened:

Wow. Talk about a close call. After listening in the car to the Flyers peppering the Leafs, we walk in and Toronto is having its best shift of the game, firing shots and keeping the puck in Philadelphia's zone for almost two full minutes. When that blast went through and trickled by Boucher, I thought for sure my premonition was about to come true. But the maligned goaltender had other ideas, channeling his past and pulling out a save like it's the year 2000. Mike Richards added an empty-netter to go along with Claude Giroux's game-winner coming on a great pass by Danny Briere, giving the Flyers a vital 2-0 victory, upping their point total to 86, sitting in 7th in the East with two games (both against the Rangers) to play.

While I didn't see the majority of the game, I think it's safe to say it was a remarkable performance by Boucher. I know, going out on a limb there professing a goalie played well in a 2-0 shutout victory. But I think this is important to point out. After literally looking like complete dog shit and being as responsible as anyone for a late-season collapse, Brian Boucher has seemed to have turned a corner over the past three games, of which the Flyers have won the last two. Two games before last night's win, Boucher gave up just one goal on 23 shots against Montreal, looking poised and confident in net — a far cry from his bed-shitting performance against the Islanders. Unfortunately, Jaroslav Halak did him one better, stopping all 35 shots the Flyers fired at him, blanking Philadelphia in Montreal's 1-0 victory. But still, it was a game for Boucher to build on. And he has.

On Easter Sunday, very few people, myself included, expected the Flyers to pull out a victory against the red-hot Detroit Red Wings. But they did, winning 4-3 despite getting outshot 34-25 by the Red Wings. Yes, Boucher did give up two goals in the first period after the Flyers had a 2-0 lead thanks to Dan Carcillo and Kimmo Timonen goals, but he had no shot on either, really. Though admittedly, on the second, he left a big, fat, juicy rebound on a slap shot he saw all the way with no traffic near him. Still, the rebound shot by Darren Helm was as perfect a backhander as you'll ever see. And Boosh faced 17 shots in that opening period, stopping 15 to keep the Flyers in the game, while Chris Osgood looked more Boucher-like than Boucher at the other end.

From there, Boucher surrendered just one more goal on 17 more shots, giving the Flyers a desperately needed win against a team many people didn't think the Flyers could beat. Boucher was a key reason.

And last night, Boucher had to be at his best. Not because Toronto was firing the rubber at him nonstop or because the Leafs were really putting the pressure on the Flyers. No, Boucher had to be at his best to match the play of the goalie at the other end of the ice. Giguere was on top of his game for sure, blanking the Flyers all night with the exception of that beautiful play by Briere to Giroux, in which Giggy had no shot to stop. Beyond that, he was just about perfect. But Boucher was one better, saving his best stops for last, and putting the Flyers back in control and all but assured a playoff berth. In fact, if the Rangers lose in regulation tonight against the Maple Leafs, the Flyers clinch a spot in the postseason. Though a lot can still happen with Boston and Atlanta as well. This much is true: The Flyers' 40 wins puts them in position to hold any tie-breakers over Boston, New York and Atlanta, and they do have one more win than the Canadiens at the moment, sitting one point behind Montreal with both teams having two games to go.

If the last three games are any indication, Boucher may have turned a corner at the right time. I'm not delusional enough to think he's going to win this team any games all by himself or go on such a tear that the Flyers could make a run, but if he's just solid, can maintain the play he's had the last three games, the Flyers won't just roll over and die the way they did last year, the way it looked as though they were doing again.

That would be a much welcomed change, averting the embarrassing disaster of missing the playoffs after bringing in Chris Pronger to try and take the next step.

Still though, seriously, this team better go and get a god damn goaltender next year.

BallHype: hype it up!

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