BUFFALO -- The chanting started 30 seconds into the game, before Brian Boucher had even seen a shot, and it returned at times through the night. Boo-shay, Boo-shay went the sing-song, and it hung there, mocking, hoping, ultimately pointless.
Because Boucher is back. He is a starting goaltender in the Stanley Cup playoffs again. And in his first post-season start since tearing up both knees during the second round of the playoffs last season against Boston, Boucher was very good, stopping 35 our of 37 shots in the Flyers’ 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
The Flyers now lead the opening round series, 2 games to 1. Boucher -- handling the puck, directing traffic, positioning himself calmly and with an economy of movement -- has earned himself another night of work. After that is anybody’s guess.
There are only a handful of active goaltenders with any kind of history in the Stanley Cup playoffs who have a better career goals against average than the 2.18 that Boucher posted going into Game 3. It is literally a handful, people with names (and resumes, and Cups) like Martin Brodeur (2.01), Jean-Sebastien Giguere (2.08) and Chris Osgood (2.09).
Still, Boucher never seems to be able to get a chance, except by either injury or default. It is as if, over a journeyman’s life, that this vagabond reputation precedes him into every situation, that the numbers don’t seem to matter, that the fact that the Flyers don’t win the first-round series against New Jersey without him doesn’t seem to matter.
In this situation, he has been the recipient of an incredible turn of events. It was decided weeks ago that Sergei Bobrovsky would be the playoff starter, and it made some sense. He is more athletic than Boucher but also more erratic -- and the notion that he could come off the bench seemed far-fetched. So they gave him the start and hope he would get hot, riding that athleticism for as long as it would take him.
It took him seven shots into Game 2. And now he is sitting in the press box and watching the games, his nameplate hanging in a teeny-tiny locker in the visitors’ dressing room. He is out and Boucher is in and Michael Leighton is back from oblivion, now the backup after spending a season filled with a back injury and then a minor league exile.
Don’t kid yourself -- Leighton, the starter in last season’s Stanley Cup Final, is not here for the fun of it. This carousel could have another spin or two left in it, and everyone who has followed the Flyers over the years knows it.
Still, as of now, Boucher controls his destiny.
On the Sabres’ first goal Monday night, Boucher really had no chance. On a power play, Buffalo’s Drew Stafford rifled from between the circles and found a spot over Boucher’s right shoulder.
The second goal, near the end of the second period, had a few more fingerprints on it. On a rush, the Sabres’ Tim Connolly fired a shot that Boucher fought off with both hands, leaving a long, inviting rebound that Nathan Gerbe ripped past the goaltender’s glove. That cut the Flyers’ lead to 3-2 at 18:12 and reinvigorated both the Sabres and the chanting at HSBC Arena.
(set italics) Boo-shay, Boo-shay... (end italics)
And then it got interesting.
A key stretch in the game came in the middle of the third period, when the Flyers found themselves forced to kill off a 5-on-3 power play for 1 minute, 15 seconds. In the midst of the siege, Buffalo’s Tyler Ennis rocketed a shot from the doorstep that Boucher fired stopped with his face. Play continued for several seconds, and then Boucher yanked off his helmet and tossed it aside, and then the referee blew his whistle to stop play.
The crowd booed.
Boucher went to the bench for repairs.
The onslaught ended.
Eventually, so did the game -- silently, without any sing-songs.