HIS KIDS are in school here, his wife has made her South Jersey friends. So the next transition for the journeyman goalie will be the toughest yet. You could hear the sadness in Brian Boucher's voice yesterday, a sadness born not out of self-pity but lost opportunity, a sadness that accompanies the inevitable.

Michael Leighton is signed through next season, Sergei Bobrovsky earned himself another look, and there is much murmuring, some healthy rumors even, that one big reason Paul Holmgren was not available to the media yesterday was that he was powwowing with Ed Snider and Peter Luukko about scenarios to bring a proven, top-notch goaltender to this veteran-laden team, so that the meltdown just witnessed will not occur again next spring.

Boucher, 34, knows he could have changed that conversation, had the chance to become a Chico Resch story this postseason if he played as he did until injured last postseason. That he didn't likely will hound him this entire summer, when he returns to his permanent home in Rhode Island, where he says his lifelong buddies will give it to him but good, and when he searches for his newest team.

"I still think I have a few good years left," he said, and of that there is no doubt. Goalies with more famous resumés have played worse than he did this postseason - remember, he was the goalie for Games 6 and 7 against Buffalo. But those resumés buy second and third chances, and there is no room for that here, not with Leighton's contract status and Bobrovsky's emergence, not with what now seems to be a mandate from the man they all call "Mr." to get a name brand between the pipes.

Officially yesterday, no one blamed the egg they laid against Boston on the goaltending. But the lack of tangible answers when discussing the uneven second half of the season and the uneven performance this postseason was telling.

"When your goalie keeps changing, you keep addressing the goalie, obviously your gaps are going bad," said Ville Leino, a free agent who also might not be back when training camp starts. "You're trying to prevent every chance. And when you play nervous, you end up on your heels a lot. You give up a lot more chances, and there's no time to think that much. It's tough to play like that."

Mark Recchi alluded to that in the early-morning hours of Saturday. He was on the Flyers teams that took Roman Cechmanek into the postseason a couple of times, the Flyers team that scored only two goals in losing to Ottawa in five games in 2002.

"It plays on your mind," he said of goalie uncertainty. "You don't have that confidence. You don't know what to expect as a team, and it doesn't allow you to play the way you're supposed to play, the way you want to play."

"He's played a long time," Boucher said of Recchi, who is 43. "Maybe he's got some knowledge there . . . They're not going to come up to me and say, 'Hey Boosh, I've lost faith in you. I can't play the way I want to play.' We're human beings, too. I have feelings. It would absolutely crush me at that point."

Cechmanek made a public spectacle of himself during the non-support, and the ensuing seasons were poisoned by mutual dislike. Boucher was there for the start of that, not the end, and it informed the attitude that has made him such a valued backup still. He's a teammate. He accepts his role, and he accepts blame. Asked over and over and over again about whether blaming the goaltending was fair, his answer has never wavered.

"Absolutely," he said again yesterday. "I've said this before: Until somebody wins a championship here, there's always going to be questions about the goaltending. If there's anybody who understands that, it's me. I've been here three different times. These people are starved for a championship. And they deserve one."

Boucher didn't blame anyone but himself yesterday. But I will. He didn't continually leave Bruins unmarked in the slot. Go back and look at some of the goals in that series and tell me the goalie was the main culprit. What continued to amaze yesterday was the lack of accountability over their style of play, especially given the goalie situation.

"I guess we always try to skate hard and make stuff happen, and that's when we play the best," Leino said. "Even though it didn't always work always, we stick to that and try to . . . We still had chances to win, though. We just didn't get the goals at the right times."

I like Ville a lot, but c'mon. That's not what happened here. And it wasn't about bounces. This was a team that liked trade wars (goals), especially over the second half of the season, a team that recorded three shutouts in a single playoff round last spring, but none over 93 games this season.

That's bad attitude, not bad bounces.

And there isn't a goalie on earth who can stop that. *

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