'I'D VERY MUCH like to redeem myself," Brian Boucher said. Reporters surrounded him on one side of the Flyers' dressing room. On the other side, Michael Leighton was engulfed by his own group of cameras and notepads.
Boucher. Leighton. And Sergei Bobrovsky; remember him. For Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, the roulette wheel spins again.
Boucher allowed three goals last night and was yanked in the first period. And so it goes for the Flyers: Bobrovsky, Boucher, Leighton, bingo! But the story is more complicated than that. Because the Flyers were down by 3-0 and then tied the game at 3-3, only to lose it, 4-3, in overtime on a rebound goal by Tyler Ennis. The Buffalo Sabres now lead this opening-round playoff series, three games to two.
The first elimination game is tomorrow in Buffalo. Everyone expects Leighton to be the starter, and he should be at this point.
One final spin of the wheel, then. One final spin.
"I take full responsibility for it," Boucher said. "I put my team behind the eight ball. It was on me. Those are goals that can't go in. I take full responsibility."
The start of Game 5 was an abject disaster for the Flyers. Boucher allowed goals by Ennis and Thomas Vanek that were from angles so sharp as to be Euclidian impossibilities. They were the worst two goals allowed by the Flyers in the playoffs since . . .
Oh, hey, there's Leighton.
"I was anticipating a pass and he shot it on net," Boucher said of the first goal. "The second one, aside from maybe coming out and playing the puck before that, I don't know if I could have done anything differently. I mean, the guy banked it off me . . .
"It was my responsibility tonight. I take ownership in that. To put your team in a hole like that, when it's an important game, they didn't deserve that. I'd like to get a second crack at it. We'll see what happens."
Actually, Boucher was not pulled until after the third goal, this one by Marc-Andre Gragnani, with 4:24 left in the first period. In the tunnel, he threw his helmet and violently attacked a nearby rack of sticks. But that damage was minor compared with what he had committed on the ice.
There was no reason to see it coming. Boucher had never had anything approaching that kind of a game in the playoffs before, not ever. There was no hint in earlier series games, either. His best game, in fact, might have been his 1-0 defeat in Game 4 on Wednesday night in Buffalo.
But this was a disaster, even worse the Game 2 disaster authored by Bobrovsky. Anyway, Boucher was out, and now Leighton was in. Leighton had been pulled twice in the Stanley Cup final last season, and then he hurt his back, and then he spent the season in the minors, and now he's back in net for a team that prefers either to balance upon the high wire or to wrap it around its own neck.
Which is where it is now.
"Obviously, the guys battled hard to get back in the game," Boucher said. "It was right there. If we play the way we did when it was 3-0, we should be in good shape. But we're down, 3-2, and the urgency has to be at the highest level.
"I don't know if there is any momentum. I know [coach Peter Laviolette] does not believe in that. He believes that whoever is more desperate will get the edge."
At 3-0, the Flyers were pretty desperate, and Leighton had a pretty good seat for the kind of comeback they now seem to attempt every year. Last season, it was the historic Game 7 in the second round against Boston - and the first goal came from James van Riemsdyk. This time, it was van Riemsdyk again, on a rebound he was able to corral with his long reach and slip it around Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller.
That was at 8:12 of the second period. Less than 2 minutes later, the score was 3-2, courtesy of an Andrej Meszaros blast from about 50 feet. The Wells Fargo Center had gotten back into it on the van Riemsdyk goal - and, really, in the minutes leading up to it as the Flyers pressured the Buffalo net. The building was convulsing after Meszaros' goal. And when Danny Briere scored on a pass from Mike Richards from behind the net in the third period, it was 3-3 and it was bedlam.
The Sabres, to their credit, pulled themselves together and had the better of the play for the next few minutes. But Leighton was good, and the game settled into the kind of nervous affair so familiar to anyone who has ever watched playoff hockey.
As time ticked down, everyone knew the next mistake might lose it, or the next bounce might win it. Ennis got the bounce, a big one off the pad of Leighton after a point shot by Buffalo's Mike Weber.
And now Boucher can only wonder. "I'll bounce back," he said. "I'm a pretty resilient person. I'm upset right now - I'm not going to lie to you. It was a big game, and I wanted to have a good start and I didn't have that. I'm disappointed."