If the Flyers are going to make the playoffs - and there is too much talent on this team to think otherwise - they need their stars to, well, play like stars.
So a lot will depend on how Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Chris Pronger respond to a current stretch in which the Flyers are playing 12 games in 21 nights.
But even if the Big Three start showing more consistency - and even if Simon Gagne and Blair Betts make strong returns from injuries - the Flyers' fate could rest with a player who used to be their backup goaltender.
Hello, Brian Boucher.
Boooooooooosh, as he is called by virtually everybody, including the fans who chant his name after every big save, is suddenly, unexpectedly, in the Flyers' hot seat because of abdominal surgery that will sideline Ray Emery for at least six weeks.
Boucher, 32, has a laid-back demeanor that makes him perfectly suited to handle the game's most demanding position. But does he still have the reflexes that, nearly six years ago, enabled him to set an NHL record with five straight shutouts for Phoenix?
We will soon find out.
"No one says, 'Gee, my goal is to be a backup goaltender,' " Boucher said after practice a few days ago. "Everyone wants to play. It's a role I've come to accept, being a backup, and I try to do my best at it. But certainly I'm excited to have a chance to play."
A year ago, Boucher excelled in a backup role with San Jose, compiling a 12-6-3 record, a 2.18 goals-against average, and a .917 save percentage in 22 games.
Because of injuries to starter Evgeni Nabokov, Boucher twice started seven games in a row. In February, he was 5-1-1 with a 2.45 goals-against average during his first seven-game stretch. Late in the season, he wasn't as strong, going 2-4-1 with a 3.01 goals-against average.
Clearly, he was more effective when used sparingly.
Boucher won't get much rest now. Starting tomorrow in Boston, the Flyers will play six games in the next 10 nights - and 10 games in the next 17 nights. Boucher's play in that span could determine whether general manager Paul Holmgren decides to make a trade for another goalie.
Boucher also figures to get most of the starts in January, when the Flyers play 14 games.
The next six-plus weeks could define the Flyers' season.
New coach Peter Laviolette's system emphasizes an aggressive, attacking style.
But he also puts a high priority on defense.
"I don't want to play a wide-open style of hockey," Laviolette said. "I don't want to go chance for chance, and I certainly don't want to give up odd-man rushes."
The Flyers need the defense to step up - like it did when it allowed just 13 shots in a loss (a loss!) in Montreal Monday - to take some of the pressure off Boucher. The Flyers also need the penalty kill to improve, and the offense to regain the swagger it had early in the season, when it was leading the league in goals per game.
Yes, the offense can also take some of the burden off Boucher.
Not that Laviolette and the Flyers don't have confidence in the Rhode Island native.
"Boosh has been playing pretty good for us. Even before I got here, he was on a pretty good roll," Laviolette said. "Life is about opportunity and he's got a good one right now. Right now, he's going to be the guy who runs with it."
After playing with four NHL teams (Phoenix, Calgary, Chicago, and Columbus) in a difficult two-year span, Boucher returned to the Flyers' organization and put his career back on track with the AHL Phantoms in 2007-08. He had a 2.47 goals-against average and was signed as a free agent by San Jose.
"Going back a couple years ago with the Phantoms, I got to play 40-some odd games, so I think that was more of a step in this direction, having to play a lot of games and preparing every night," said Boucher, now in his third stint with the Flyers since they drafted him in the first round (22d overall) in 1995. "I got my game back. I look back at that and say, 'Look, I was able to handle that workload,' and at times it might have been a little tougher with all the buses and the three in threes [three games in three nights] and stuff like that. And last year in San Jose, I tried to transition that from the year before, so I was ready.
"The thing for me is preparing the same every single day, regardless of if you're No. 2 or No. 1, so if you are the No. 1, it's not a shock to the system."
Boucher was asked if he viewed this as a chance to give the Flyers a difficult choice on their No. 1 goalie when the enigmatic Emery returns. (Boucher said he didn't realize the severity of Emery's injury until the Flyers made it public last week.)
"I'm going to try to do the best job I can for this team. That's what I was signed to do, regardless of whether it was No. 1 or No. 2," he said. "That's how I'm going to approach it. Take it one game at a time and not make it life or death for me. If I prepare the way I know I can prepare and do what I've been doing over the last couple of years, I think I'll be fine."
He talked in a low, almost-monotone voice.
"I am excited. If I'm not showing it, I apologize, because I am," he said with a smile. "But like I said, you can't get out of the moment. You've got to stay in the present, take it day by day and game by game. Prepare the same every day. Trust your team, trust your teammates, and the system. If we do that, I think we'll be pretty successful."
If not, there were 16 scouts at Thursday's game, many with a goalie to offer.
Inside the Flyers:
Read Sam Carchidi's Flyers blog, Broad Street Bull, at http://go.philly.com/sports.
Blog response of the week
Subject: Laviolette punishing players for penalties with skating drills.
Posted by: riles1875 at
3:13 p.m. Wednesday
Good for Laviolette. Someone is finally doing more than just talking about accountability.EndText