MONTREAL - One month ago today, Brian Boucher sat in the tunnel at the Bell Centre - where all the visiting backup goaltenders sit - physically as far away from his teammates as possible.
He was watching rookie Sergei Bobrovsky reel off 12 straight starts for the Flyers. To pass time during the game, Boucher said he would politely make small talk with two older French-speaking ladies who were curious about hockey.
Last night, Boucher was back in the Bell Centre. Physically, as he watched Bobrovsky start against the Canadiens again, Boucher was in the same seat. Mentally, he was in a different world.
Before last night's game, both Bobrovsky and Boucher made the exact number of starts (six) over the last month, if you exclude the wild, 8-7 loss to Tampa Bay in which they both played.
For comparison's sake, take a look at their numbers anonymously:
Goalie A: 3-1-2 record, 2.30 goals-against average, .915 save percentage.
Goalie B: 5-0-1 record, 1.76 goals-against average, .940 save percentage.
Can you tell which goalie put up which numbers?
Would it surprise you if Boucher, the man amongst the crowd last night, was Goalie B and Bobrovsky was Goalie A? Believe it. And that isn't to say Bobrovsky has struggled in net. Almost any goaltender in the NHL would take those numbers - particularly as a 22-year-old rookie.
But Boucher's stats are even more impressive when you consider his opponents, who have a combined record of 93-71-17, next to Bobrovsky's opponents, who have a combined record of 70-82-24.
None of these stats, however, is to suggest there is a goaltending controversy. Rather, it's just to show how good the Flyers' goaltending - which accounts for the league's sixth-best tandem at 2.31 goals-against - has been.
And how far Boucher is from being the guy who sat for 12 straight games last month.
"He's been playing real well," coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's been sharp. He seems to be in complete control of games. He's relaxed.''
Laviolette cut off a question in his pregame availability last night in which Boucher was referred to as "the backup goaltender.''
"I agree with everything you just said except for the use of that one word,'' Laviolette said. "Backup.''
Laviolette said he decided to go to Bobrovsky last night - after his longest layoff of the season - because the Flyers were playing on back-to-back nights after an emotion-sapping win against Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
"I've got faith in all of my goaltenders,'' Laviolette said. "It's just a back-to-back game, in the middle of some games.''
When one reporter suggested that Laviolette may have been going with Bobrovsky to avoid "losing'' the Russian rookie's confidence, Laviolette stopped cold.
"I haven't thought like you guys are thinking,'' he said. " 'Bob' is a terrific goalie who has played terrific for us. You guys are going down a road that I'm not going to touch.''
Boucher recently has played like a guy whose job was on the line. With Michael Leighton rehabbing over the last few weeks and constant questions about what would happen when he returns, Boucher's job was on the line.
Leighton was activated on Tuesday night, but Boucher has kept himself on the roster with his hot play. If Boucher had not been on the mark, Bobrovsky would have carried the workload and Leighton probably would have already replaced him.
"Sometimes you can't control the things happening around you,'' Laviolette said. "The only thing you can control is how you prepare, how you play, how you perform. And he receives high marks for all of them.''
With Leighton officially back, there is not any less pressure for Boucher. But he is worlds away from conversing with old ladies at the Bell Centre. He's been at the center of the action.