BUFFALO - So who was that masked man who helped the Flyers continue their road dominance with a 5-2 comeback win against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday?

Yep. Sergei Bobrovsky, the onetime rookie-of-the-year front-runner who has slipped to No. 2 on the Flyers' depth chart at goalie.

After a shaky first period, Bobrovsky settled down and resembled the player who was the league's rookie of the-month in November.

Bobrovsky made 38 saves - equaling a career best - and seemed to gather confidence as the game progressed.

The performance was much needed because Bobrovsky wasn't as aggressive, or in control, in his previous five games, during which he had a 4.25 goals-against average.

It was just his fourth start in the last 13 games.

"It wasn't difficult," Bobrovsky insisted through a translator, referring to his inactivity in the last month. "I was just waiting for my opportunity to play so that when I do, I can perform well."

After a first period in which Bobrovsky allowed two goals and was betrayed by a defense that couldn't get out of its end, the 22-year-old rookie gained his composure, won for the first time since Dec. 15, and raised his record to 16-6-3.

"I was nervous in the beginning of the game, but I got calm as the game went on," Bobrovsky said after the Flyers raised their road record to 14-4-3.

"He settled in and made some really big saves - and gave us an opportunity to get our legs under us," said coach Peter Laviolette, whose team overcame an early 2-0 deficit.

The last half of the season will determine which goalie plays the leading role in the playoffs.

"When your team is playing well, those are good decisions," Laviolette said.

Right now, Brian Boucher has emerged as the No. 1 goalie, thanks to a 9-1-1 record and 1.97 goals-against average in his last 11 starts.

All told, Boucher has a 2.23 goals-against average - tied for fifth in the NHL, entering Wednesday - and a .921 save percentage, while Bobrovsky has a 2.55 GAA and a .917 save percentage.

Bobrovsky is trying to regain the early-season form that had goalie icon Bernie Parent comparing him to Pelle Lindbergh.

Asked to rate his performance in the first half of the season, Bobrovsky declined.

"I don't grade my play," he said. "As long as we win, I'm happy."

Although his uneven play recently suggests otherwise, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Russian said he was getting more comfortable with the North American game. "As every day goes by, it's getting easier and easier," he said.

The Flyers (27-10-5), in the midst of a stretch when they play nine of 10 games on the road, are in snow-crippled Boston on Thursday night to face the Bruins (23-12-7). The Flyers were supposed to practice at Boston University on Wednesday, but it was canceled because of the snow. They worked out instead at a Boston health club.

Boston, which has the league's best goals-against average (2.10 per game), is battling Montreal for the Northeast Division title. The Bruins, who lost a three-games-to-none series lead in last year's conference semifinals against the Flyers, are 1-1 against Philadelphia this season.

"They seem to be a team that brings out the best in us, and we bring out the best in them, and that usually leads to pretty good hockey games. I would imagine [Thursday] would be no different," Laviolette said. "Over time, too, especially recently, things kind of spill over from one game to the next, and you see certain teams on the schedule and you're ready to play."

Boucher, a New Englander, is expected to face all-star goalie Tim Thomas (19-4-6, 1.77, .946). Thomas has an NHL-best six shutouts, including a 41-save, 3-0 win over the host Flyers on Dec. 1. He also dropped a 2-1 overtime decision in Boston on Dec. 11, a game the Flyers won on Mike Richards' goal with three seconds left.

Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.
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