NEWARK, N.J. -- Before this, before now, the Flyers had played in three five-game playoff series in their history in which they held the other team to fewer than 10 goals. Stunningly, given everything, we have now seen a fourth. Exorcising historical demons, turning away 27 shots, holding the New Jersey Devils scoreless at even strength for the final 187 minutes, 39 seconds of the series, Brian Boucher was a full-service hero. Upon his excellence, the Flyers have built themselves a platform.
Ten years after the Flyers blew a 3-1 lead in the playoffs to the Devils -- with Boucher, a rookie, in goal against Martin Brodeur -- the Flyers absolutely crushed the life out of the Devils Thursday night in Game 5, 3-0. Just as in the first two games of the series played at Prudential Center, the Devils came with their best at the start of the game and Boucher, well, he was just better.
Nobody saw it coming, not to this level, but Boucher was simply excellent. Because of that, the Flyers are on their way to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. At age 33, no longer a kid, Boucher is leading them.
“My favorite goalie growing up was Patrick Roy,” he said. “I never got to play against him in the playoffs. But I can remember being on the ice against him. I can remember, during warmup, looking over and thinking, ‘Oh my God, that’s Patrick Roy.’ That’s the way I felt about him.
“Marty, too. Marty has created this whole thing around him -- he’s such a great goaltender. Early in my career, I’d just think about the whole thing and say, ‘Wow, this guy really is amazing.’
“That’s how it felt for me,” Boucher said. “But now that I’ve been in the league for a while, I still have a ton of respect for him -- but I don’t know if I’m that bright-eyed kid anymore. I feel like I belong in this league and I’m just trying to do my best. Playing against a guy like Marty is a pleasure because you know you’re playing against the best in the game. It really is pretty cool.”
Sports Illustrated ranked the playoff goaltenders from No. 1 to No. 16, and Boucher was last. It was understandable enough, if you didn’t pay attention to the last half-dozen games of the season and if you didn’t factor in the reality of Boucher’s season -- backup to Ray Emery, starter for a while, injured himself, oblivion behind out-of-nowhere replacement Michael Leighton, then starter again after Leighton sprained his ankle on March 16.
The idea that he was going to get up off of the bench after all of that and be really good just wasn’t realistic. With playing time, though, you could see the improvement. Still, there was a leap from that point to here -- and Boucher not only made the leap, he stuck the landing. He never looked rattled, not once, not even when the Devils came at him with their best in the first periods of all three games here at the Prudential Center.
At the Devils’ practice after Game 1, they ran an extended drill at one point in which a guy skated out of the corner and behind the net, then passed the puck out front to a shooter. As drills goes, it was neither novel nor special. But it seemed to highlight something that the Devils wanted to try.
You want to make every goaltender move from post-to-post; no big insight there. But as he got his legs under him at the end of the season, that movement seemed to expose Boucher’s biggest flaw -- moving laterally and getting himself set and squared up in his new position.
And, well, as it turned out, that has been a Boucher strength in this series. You know it was on the Devils’ mind because, without being asked about it, New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire offered after Game 4, “I think he has been in good position on shots. Tonight we had a couple of shots from side-to-side and he transferred well and was square to the shooter.”
He is, like most of his brethren, the best when he seems to be moving the least. And while body language can be a dangerous thing sometimes, you could see Boucher’s confidence grow in that body language, in the economy of his movements, in the total absence of anything frantic.
And, now, we all get to see what’s next.