Sunday, February 14, 2016

Flyers mirror Boucher in Game 1

BOSTON – For the first 30 minutes of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at TD Garden, we saw a Brian Boucher that went 9-18-3 in the regular season and had just the 41st-best save percentage among NHL goalies.

Flyers mirror Boucher in Game 1

Boucher was on his back in the first period.
Boucher was on his back in the first period.

BOSTON – For the first 30 minutes of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at TD Garden, we saw a Brian Boucher that went 9-18-3 in the regular season and had just the 41st-best save percentage among NHL goalies.

It was a Boucher that struggled to see pucks, couldn’t get a clean handle on rebounds and didn’t have the confidence that pouring out of his pores just a little more than a week ago in Newark, N.J.

But for the final 43:52 of Game 1, we saw the vintage Brian Boucher – the same Boucher that carried the Flyers to the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. He was every bit as good as the rock solid goal

Marc Savard, playing his first game in almost two months, beat Boucher 13:52 into overtime to give Boston a 5-4 overtime win and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

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Not surprisingly, Boucher – always his own toughest critic – said he would have liked another crack at Savard’s top-shelf slap shot.

“I think he got pretty much all of it,” Boucher said. “It’s tough to say. But I’d like to have that one back, when he put it where he put it.

“It was a broken play. Looking back, maybe I would have tried to freeze the puck. But it was off to the side. I didn’t know what was behind me. Hindsight is always 20-20.”

Now, with 48 hours in between Games 1 and 2, the Flyers cannot look back. Peter Laviolette and the Flyers’ coaching staff will spend hours breaking down the tape – even though Laviolette pokes fun of himself for calling it ‘tape’ when he knows everything is digital – and they will see that Boucher’s play mirrored the play of his team.

Though he won’t admit it, Boucher started slow. And so did the players in front of him. With nine days in between games, that is to be expected.

“I felt pretty good,” Boucher said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes. But I felt pretty good about my game. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the result.

“The first period, maybe as a group, we were a little behind. But once we got our skating legs and got working there, we did a good job. We battled back from 4-2 there in the third [period] and they were the more desperate team in the overtime.”

The Flyers were in a 2-0 hole before the series was 13 minutes old. It looked like Boucher didn’t even see Steve Begin’s shot from a loose puck 2:39 into the game. And if this were the first round, Boucher would have stopped Patrice Bergeron’s backhand a little more than 10 minutes later.

“Clearly, the first period affected us,” Laviolette said. “I think from a live game situation, [the layoff] affected us. We didn’t move the puck efficiently. We didn’t seem to have our legs. When you sit for a long time you try and simulate things, with the competitiveness and the skating and the battles on the ice. It’s hard to simulate.”

Clearly, Boucher – as a goaltender – had the most on the line with the layoff. Goaltenders thrive on rhythm. But it didn’t take him long to get back into one.

Ryan Parent cut Boston’s lead in half with his first career playoff goal in the second period before Johnny Boychuk’s slapper bounced off Boucher’s pad all the way out to Miro Satan on the wing.

Boucher wrote it off, saying Satan’s caught a “lucky bounce, right on the guy’s tape on the forehand.”

After Chris Pronger made it 3-2 later in the second period, David Krejci opened the scoring in the third period with a patient move that froze Boucher.

“The guy is all alone in front and you don’t expect him to take so long to shoot it,” Boucher explained.

But as time ticked down at the Garden – and the Flyers inched closer and closer to knotting the game – Boucher got better. And so did the Flyers. After Krejci’s goal, Boucher shut the Bruins out for the remainder of the third period.

The Bruins had at least eight scoring chances in the first two minutes of overtime, and Boucher had an answer for every one of them. Boston threw 15 shots his way in overtime alone.

Without Boucher, the game would’ve ended in the first 30 seconds of the extra session.

“He was awesome,” Chris Pronger said. “Obviously that overtime for the first two and a half minutes he made countless unbelievable saves. It is not easy for a goaltender to follow through traffic and through guys in front. He made some unbelievable saves for us.”

Still, Boston remains the only team other than the Flyers to stay undefeated on home ice. The Bruins are 4-0 at TD Garden after finishing the regular season a pedestrian 18-17-6.

But there were a lot of positives to take from Game 1.

The Flyers didn’t roll over when faced with 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 deficits – especially in the third period. Mike Richards and Danny Briere scored within four minutes of each other in the third period to knot the contest and send it to overtime.

Richards’ power play goal in the third period that made it 4-3 was the first power play goal the Bruins allowed in the playoffs, breaking a 21-for-21 streak. Richards called the second and third periods a “blueprint” for how to attack the Bruins in Game 2 on Monday night.

“We knew they were going to come at us hard,” said Richards, who finished with a goal and two assists. “But I think after a long [layoff] it’s tough to get the legs going right off the bat. At least we have the blueprint – from what we did in the second and third period. We did a lot of good things from the second period on.”

And then there was Boucher.

“I think we should be pretty pleased with the way we played our second and third period,” Boucher said. “I think we did pretty good 5-on-5. We battled back. We know this is not going to be an easy place to win. But I think we played a pretty good game battling back, especially since the first period was a little sluggish.”

Sometimes, it’s not how you start – but how you finish. This is going to be a long series.

Slap shots
Flyers out-hit Boston 44-28 … Chris Pronger, Matt Carle and Kimmo Timonen all topped 30 minutes of ice time … Bruins forward Marco Sturm left the game after just 3 minutes in the first period and did not return. Bruins coach Claude Julien said there was no immediate update after the game … Historically, the Flyers and Bruins are 3-3 against each other in overtime playoff games … Pronger and Danny Briere were both minus-2 despite a goal and assist.

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